Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Why my kids feel Olympics are not the real thing now

I did quite well in my school exams, but the only thing for which I can confidently say I stood out like a beacon among my fellow pupils was my record-breaking 100-metres dash.

It was during the first round of school sports day qualifiers, and was thus, unusually, timed. I prepared for the race with my usual routine - swallowing a nerve-induced phlegm bag - then responded to the starting whistle with gusto, ruthlessly propelling my body forward. Unfortunately, my legs were late to be informed of my torso's good intentions, with the result that, after about 10 metres, I had lost my balance and was lying face down on the track.

The whole class was laughing so I decided to join in and prove myself a (ironic term) 'good sport'. I sat up and had a good chuckle at my legs' expense, then dandered up to rejoin my friend (I'm sure I had more than one a few minutes ago).

As I sauntered obliviously over the finish line, the teacher snapped off the stopwatch and informed me that my time of 93 seconds was a new school record.

The memory has stayed with me forever - that 93 isn't a foggy guess. I spent my first 14 years curled up in my bedroom with a book (family nickname: 'the hermit') and for years pretended to take a contrary pride in being famously bad at physical activities. But the truth is, I knew sport could enhance my life, from helping me work respectfully in a team (still can't) to improving my health. For years I've watched people come into the pub, flushed and euphoric after a game of five-aside football or tennis, and understood I was missing out on something good for the soul.

When I had children I was determined they would be different, and I've encouraged them to be as active as possible. So, I welcomed the news that the Olympics were coming to London with open arms, hoping the run-up would see an explosion of enthusiasm for participation in sport across the UK.

And I've tried my best. I've shown my children Usain Bolt's 2008 races on YouTube before taking them for a runabout, and Tom Daley's top 10 dives before going swimming. We will be there to watch the Olympic torch pass through our town. They're smart kids though, and it's beginning to dawn on them there's something not quite right about this year's Games.

"Isn't Coca-Cola bad for you?" my daughter demanded, after reading that the soft drinks giants have spent $100m to have their logo plastered across the tournament. "What did will.i.am win his medal for?" asked my five-year-old son, his curiosity piqued after spotting the American hip-hop daddio waving the Olympic torch around while moon-walking through the streets of Devon.

Now I dread the day Newsround gives them the stark figures on the corporate hospitality packages (half of which remain unsold) which have deprived thousands of ordinary people (including ex Olympians' families) of access to events.

Or tells them about the granny who was advised to remove the jumper she'd knitted for a 10-inch doll before it could be sold in a local jumble sale because it included a copyrighted Olympic logo on it.

As primary school kids, they should be easy targets for Olympic fervour stirring. But children have noses too and if there's a big fat stinking rapacious rat in the room, they can smell it.

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