The Emperor's New Clothes (12/08/12)

What could thrill us more now than the start of a new football season? Just about anything...

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If ever a cliché about sport has been skewered, turned on its head and made to look utterly ridiculous, it is the bunkum line "football is the people's game". If you doubt that, the evidence will soon be with us. For the past two weeks, almost every sentient Briton has revelled in the joyous variety of sports that is the Olympics. Before us have run, jumped, fought, ridden and sailed, straining every sinew, huge numbers of largely underpaid, engaging sportsmen and sportswomen. As of tomorrow, they will be replaced on our screens and back pages with the nation's professional footballers.

And so, in place of Christine Ohuruogu, losing her crown with as much grace and dignity as it is possible to imagine, we will have Stevie Gerrard wincing and whining his way through another post-England-defeat press conference. Instead of the thrilling speed and intelligent comments of Bradley Wiggins, we will have John Terry. Where there has been sportsmanship, we will have studs up, elbows in faces, thuggery, muggery and shirt-tuggery. Gone will be Laura Trott's cheeky face on a bike, and along will come the screech of a Ferrari's brakes as some £200,000-a-week oaf arrives late for training. Instead of Ian Thorpe's insights into swimming, Chris Boardman's into cycling and Colin Jackson's into athletic events, we will have Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and all the other old cliché-trotting pundits and their dismally small range of predictable observations. And, in place of Britons of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours, religions and genders happily cheering on the sidelines, we will have replica-shirt-wearing urban man and his abusive chants. The whole grim-faced, self-important, Sky-hyped nine months looms – three-quarters of a year of Wags and shags, cheating, bleating, and keeping it tight at the back.

For me, and I suspect millions of others, the past two weeks have demonstrated what sport can be – inspirational, unifying, and performed by articulate young people trying their hardest in events they love. The spectacle has engaged the whole country. Not because we have won so often, but because, unlike football, its competitors attract, rather than repel. The people's game? Not any more, for we have experienced The People's Games.

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