The big questions: What was your Games highlight? And how do we get more teenagers into sport?

Answered this week by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Frank Cottrell Boyce
Friday 17 August 2012 20:04
'For years we've been seeking out the very worst people and putting them in charge of our banks and big companies'
'For years we've been seeking out the very worst people and putting them in charge of our banks and big companies'

What was the biggest challenge of writing the Olympics Opening Ceremony?

Keeping quiet about it. Especially when everyone was predicting that it was going to be rubbish, it was physically difficult to stop myself yelling, "Yeah? Well you just wait till you see that cauldron/the Queen/the chimneys/doves, etc."

Are those who saw the ceremony as a socialist view of British history correct?

It was a work of art, not an educational resource pack! Works of art mean whatever their audience wants them to mean. The point is not what they mean but what they make you feel. Danny created something visceral, funny and moving. The only politics that matters is that so many people from such different backgrounds shared so fully in that experience. In laughing together we experience the joy of our common humanity.

The ceremony apart, what was your Games highlight?

Emotionally, Gemma Gibbons thanking her mum. Athletically it has to be Mo Farah surely? Or David Rudisha or maybe Chris Hoy. But overall, for me how often these superbeings showed so much gratitude to their families, coaches, the crowd. How much grace they had and how connected they felt.

What sort of Olympics legacy would you like to see?

I think we saw the best of ourselves in that fortnight – on the field of play, in the stands, and especially in the volunteers and games makers.

Political discourse is largely addressed to the worst of us. I'd like to see the best of us – the idealistic, altruistic, connected side of us – taken into account. When it comes to motivation, for instance – for years, we've been told that you need to give massive salaries and bonuses to the "best" people in order to keep them. In the past two weeks, we've seen brilliant work done by people – athletes, coaches, volunteers – who have no notion of financial reward. The best people are attracted to challenges, and driven by loyalty, vision, altruism, fun. People who can be bought for big salaries are not the best but, in fact, the worst – disloyal, unimaginative, restless and unsatisfied. For years, we've been systematically seeking out the very worst people and putting them in charge of our banks and big companies.

Also – a strange thing for a writer to say – but I'd like to see more respect for sport and other less verbal forms of education: construction, mechanics, design. Look at how effective [Lord] Coe – with his sport background – is as a leader compared with some people who studied, say, law.

How do we get more teenagers playing sport?

Break the football monoculture. I love football but in the minds of teenagers it's too closely associated with material aspiration and routine cheating to provide real inspiration. Its hold on popular culture and the media is complete, so only schools can offer an alternative. That means giving more resources to schools. A stable full of horses for every primary school, says I. And a rowing lake. And some archery butts. And a velodrome. And a ping pong table.

Is there a risk that the new-found emphasis on sport in schools, will jeopardise other activities – like reading books?

Those two things are not in competition. They're both real, both infinitely valuable. Children who get involved in competitive sports do better academically. If you need to make more room in the curriculum you could just get rid of all those bulls**t tests and league tables. Sport and reading teach you how to stretch yourself morally, physically and imaginatively. Tests and league tables have taught our children to be cynical and too easily satisfied.

Do made-up words have a role to play in children learning to read?

As long as the children are making up the words themselves! Using made-up words to test literacy debases reading by turning it into decoding. Testing has no place whatsoever in the business of learning to read. Testing is a scam that is part of the broader cross-party drive to suck schools into the sub X Factor league tables panto. Children are ready to learn to read at different ages. What's wrong with that? What we need is to provide the motivation for learning by reading to them – a lot. Instead we chivvy them into literacy and rob them of the pleasure of reading. It's a massive, systematic cultural theft. If we don't stop it, we'll pay dearly for it.

Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote the Olympic Games' Opening Ceremony. His latest book is 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again', published by Macmillan

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