British glory guaranteed – as champion spectators
Murray's march to the final sets up an epic summer of sport but home success fails to boost participation, says Glenn Moore
There would seem something deranged about sitting in the pouring rain watching a sporting event whose participants' faces cannot be seen and which can be followed much more comprehensively, not to say comfortably, in your own home. But enough about Silverstone, where at least the drivers' cars at the BRitish Grand Prix can be seen by the naked eye. The Henman Hill phenomenon is odder still, thousands of people watching a giant TV screen showing an event which is tantalising near, but not actually visible. And paying for the privilege.
The £8 ground entry was, however, cheap at the price for the 3,500 packed on the Aorangi Terrace yesterday. This, they hoped, was to be one of those priceless once-in-a-lifetime "I was there" moments. You did not have to know your double-handed backhand from your topspin slice to enjoy the sense of occasion as Andy Murray aimed at one of most enduring quests of British sport.
So they had come in their macs and wellies, armed with picnic bags and umbrellas, Prosecco and cheese sarnies, to be part of it. They willed on the gauche Scotsman as he faced the master magician of the lawns as if by their very presence they could help him into history. The skies opened before, during and after the match and their cagoules were doused each time, but not their enthusiasm.
It was all to no avail. Murray lost, albeit bravely and gallantly, but those who have invested this Jubilympic year in Union Jack-themed hats, raincoats, umbrellas, flags and sunglasses will continue to get good value (except perhaps, from the sunglasses). Murray's defeat is just a stumble amid a marathon summer of British sport on these shores and beyond.
The day after Murray became the first Brit to reach the men's final since 1938 Bradley Wiggins became the first to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France since 2000, underlining his chances of becoming first cross-Channel winner of our neighbours' national obsession. His British-based team had already picked up stage success through Manxman world champion and Olympic favourite Mark Cavendish. Later on Saturday England's cricketers, already No 1 in the Test and T20 rankings, took a series-winning 3-0 lead in Durham against the ODI No 1s Australia.
Wiggins now heads for Paris, still in yellow, but next week the spotlight will divert to the Lancashire links. There Englishmen Luke Donald, Lee Westwood (groin injury permitting) and Justin Rose, all top-10 ranked, will seek to emulate last year's winner Darren Clarke and lift the Claret Jug thus becoming the first Open champion since Nick Faldo two decades ago. Should they fail, Clarke's compatriots, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, may find glory on the 18th.
These events, big as they are, are just a warm-up for the global jamboree taking place at Stratford at the end of the month. Boosted by significant lottery funding over the last decade Team GB are targeting fourth place in the Olympic medal table, but could well edge above Russia to finish third behind only the United States and China, the best performance since 1908.
Add the England football team, which will rise to No 3 in the world next month – implausible, but they have lost once in 16 matches, the respectable performances of UK rugby XVs on their southern hemisphere tours, the revival in British boxing with belts held by Carl Froch, Nathan Cleverly, Amir Khan, and Ricky Burns, two Formula One champions in four years, and several world champions in lesser known disciplines such as taekwondo's Olympic exile Aaron Cook, the sporting landscape is in excellent shape.
There should also be much more to celebrate this decade. Britain hosts the world cups of rugby league (2013), rugby union (2015) and cricket (2019), plus the Commonwealth Games (2014) and athletics world championship (2017).
But the big question is whether all this activity and success will translate into a fitter nation, or merely spawn a generation of couch potatoes and pub-viewers? The natural response to watching Murray or Wiggins ought to be a desire to grab a tennis racket or get on a bike. Increasingly it means either changing channels to see what else we are winning or, at best, camping out in the rain to watch the event.
Recent Sport England surveys reveal the percentage of 16-25-year-olds playing sport has declined since the Olympics were awarded to London in 2005. No Olympic host has produced an increase in sports participation and with government investment in school sports being cut that seems unlikely to change. The Lawn Tennis Association expects courts to get busier in the wake of Murray's run to the Wimbledon final, and points to an 11 per cent rise in adults playing weekly over the last six months, but it has had £500,000 of Sport England funding cut for losing 10 per cent of its participants since 2006.
The British (and Irish) are one of the great sports-watching peoples. Thousands travel to watch the islands' football, cricket and rugby teams. Nowhere else can sustain four professional football divisions while Sky TV's success has been driven by its sports channels. Increasingly it seems we are a nation of great individual sportspeople, and a mass of eager sports-watchers, but not actually a sporty nation. We have enough passion, perseverance and fortitude to watch Andy Murray, even in the rain, but not enough to emulate him, even in the park.
Rule Britannia: Oh well, there's always...
England have led the Test rankings for almost a year and face No 2 side South Africa this summer. They also lead the T20 rankings, ahead of defending their world title later this year. England secured the one-day series against Australia with a game to spare after an eight-wicket victory on Saturday – their ninth one-day win in row. England's women are also the current holders of the World Cup
Players from the British Isles occupy the top three spots in the world rankings – England's Luke Donald and Lee Westwood sandwiching Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy.
Fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke defends his Open title at Lytham St Annes next week.
Great Britain is expected to dominate proceedings again at the Olympics, after their success in Beijing, and Bradley Wiggins became only the fifth Briton to lead the Tour de France at the weekend.
Rebecca Adlington, Hannah Miley and Keri-Anne Payne are tipped to do well at the Olympics.
Ben Ainslie is likely to win a fourth gold in London.
James Willstrop and Nick Matthew top the world rankings.
England are, amazingly, set to move into third in the world rankings, while Chelsea won the Champions League.
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