Simon Kelner: Sporting success is about courage, not patriotism

Kelner's view

It was hard not to feel anything other than the most intense patriotic pride at the performance of Great Britain's athletes on Saturday night, but you will be pleased to know that I managed it. I don't want you to get the wrong idea: I clapped Mo Farah home, I cheered for Jessica Ennis, and found Greg Rutherford's victory in the long jump thrilling.

I believe that anyone who wins a gold medal – in anything from rhythmic gymnastics to the 100 metres – should be celebrated and venerated for their prowess, and, in terms of sporting achievement, I recognise that this was as good as it gets for the body we now know as Team GB.

It's just that, when it comes to translating these magnificent individual feats into a feeling that it's wonderful to be British, my heart just isn't in it. In fact, I'd go further than that. I find the fever pitch of jingoism, reflected in the breathless BBC coverage, a complete turn-off. In fact, it makes me the opposite of proud. There, I've said it. Take me off to the Tower.

On Saturday, I heard a commentator introducing a heat of an athletics event say something to the effect of "there's nobody British in this, so no need to pay much attention", and that, I'm afraid, is the tone of the Beeb's coverage. From the pathetic and embarrassing Big Ben gold medal counter – please, Gabby, get rid! – to the ludicrously uncritical interviews with Lord Coe – ask him why it's almost impossible to buy tickets on the Locog website! – the BBC appears to have forgotten its remit to be balanced and impartial. Instead, they've become fans with microphones.

Of course, they have to convey the excitement in the stadium, and the coverage should reflect the interests of their home audience. What's more, these troubled times cry out for the magnificent diversion that is sport. But let's try and get things in a little proportion.

For instance, the headline on the front page of yesterday's Observer newspaper read: Britain's Greatest Day. Note, no question mark. A simple statement of fact. To me, sport is about humanity rather than nationhood. It is about courage, a noble quality, rather than patriotism, which is the opposite.

A tear welled up in my eye when Jessica Ennis stood on the podium, not just because she was British but because I'd met her a year ago and was captivated by her charm and awed by her dedication. I wanted her to win for her, not for us. I was deeply moved by Mo Farah, but because I knew the back story of a boy who came to these shores from Mogadishu to be with his father, and then there was the heavily pregnant wife, and his overjoyed daughter. It was scene to melt the flintiest of hearts.

This is what sport at its finest represents: human stories, the battle against adversity and the atavistic thrill of victory. I am pleased that these are British athletes enjoying success and adulation. But, sadly, it doesn't make us better people because we are British too.

Comments