Christina Patterson: We transformed sport. Let's do the same for young lives

A year on from the events that wrecked so much, not a great deal has changed


There has been joy. There has been so much joy. There was joy when a young man from Milton Keynes ran up to a sandpit and flew like a bird. There was joy when a young woman from Yorkshire, who had run, and jumped, and thrown a spear, ran one more time and got the highest score in the world. And there was joy when a young man from London went round and round and round a track, and then round it one more time, and won gold.

There was joy in the stadium, and tears and screams and roars. There was joy in pubs, and on sofas. It was, said the sportswriters, including the one on this paper who saw Muhammad Ali and George Best when they were more like gods than men, "the best night in British sport". Which was very lucky for those of us who've hardly ever watched any sport before.

There was joy in the studio, too. It was there in the voice of the man who announced it, though he didn't really need to when the moment came. But the joy in his voice didn't seem like joy when you compared it to the joy of the other people in the room. We didn't see it at first, because the cameras were on the man who'd won gold. But when we did, because the BBC wanted everyone to share it, we saw three people leaping up, and waving their arms. One of them even danced. And these three people, who all used to be athletes, shrieked and waved and danced because they knew what it took to win gold.

It might not get better than this. This moment, in this year, in this country, might be the best we get. We're having a party, and doing it well. We started the party with a big, mad, happy show that showed the world who we wanted to be. In that show, we had young people, and old people, and white people, and black people, and people who could write, or sing, or design, or act, or dance. In that show, we looked like a big, happy family. We looked like the kind of family where everyone works together very well. We looked, in fact, like the kind of family where everyone gets the chance to shine.

It's very nice that we looked like that, and very nice that we feel like that, and very nice to see people from all kinds of backgrounds winning medals. And it's very, very nice to see black people on TV. It's nice to see black people achieving more than other people, in a country where they often seem to achieve less. And it's nice to see black people who have achieved more than other people being asked to say things about people who aren't black.

The last time we saw more black people than white people in a TV studio was a year ago. It was, in fact, during the riots. When the riots happened, lots of people said they had nothing to do with race, but you don't normally get people being asked about their "community" when things have nothing to do with race. The riots started, in a part of London with a black population five times bigger than the average for the country, when a black man was killed by the police. As the madness spread, across the city, and across the country, to people who had no idea why it had started, things changed. Some people who got caught up in it were middle-aged. Some were middle-class. Some were girls. But most were young and male. And an awful lot of them – about half, according to the figures from the Ministry of Justice – were mixed race, or black.

About 4 per cent of this country's population is mixed race, or black. If we were a big, happy family, like the one we seemed to be in the ceremony that launched our big party, then about 4 per cent of the prison population should be, too. But it isn't. About a quarter of our prison population is mixed race, or black. And now, after the riots, about 1,000 more young black men have criminal records. Their chances of finding work aren't looking good. But then they weren't looking all that good before.

People have talked a lot in the year since the riots about what may or may not have caused them. Our Prime Minister said at the time that what happened was "criminality pure and simple", but in the year since then he has learnt that not very much in life is "pure and simple". He might even have learnt that a third of the rioters had no qualification higher than a GCSE. He might have learnt that half the prison population can barely read or write. And that the figure for working-class black boys is even higher.

If you can't read or write, you're not likely to get a job. If you don't have a job, you're much more likely to commit crime. About half of young black men don't have jobs. You don't need a GCSE to do the maths. If we want to solve this, we have to make schools better. We have to encourage more men, and more black men, to teach. We have to make sure that someone teaches these children how to read, and write, and speak. Sub-Jamaican street slang is fine as a second language, but it doesn't really work as a first. If you want to get a job, as the immigrants who have taken 81 per cent of the new jobs created in this country since 1997 know, people have to be able to understand what you say.

It isn't easy to stop teenagers from having children they don't really want to bring up. But we have to try, and we have to help the children they have when we fail. We have to show them that there's a bigger world than the one they feel trapped in. We have to show them that there are ways other than prison to escape.

A year on from the events that wrecked many people's homes, and hopes, and the future of the people who wrecked them, not all that much has changed. But it doesn't take a year to solve a problem like this. It takes at least a generation.

It's 16 years since the Olympic Games in which we – if you can call those of us who didn't take part "we" – won a single gold medal. Someone decided that wasn't good enough. Someone decided our country deserved better. Someone decided to spend money, and time, and thought, and care, to make sure it achieved what it knew, if it was given the chance, it could.

Let's try. Let's take this moment, and this feeling of being a family, and try. Let's make Mo Farah, and Jessica Ennis, and Greg Rutherford, and all the men and women who have brought us so much joy, as proud of their country as we are of them.;

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam