Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Footballers simply outclassed by the beautiful Games

Kat Copeland

Two little vignettes from Super Saturday over at the London Olympics. "I can't believe we've won. We're gonna be on a stamp tomorrow," says newly crowned gold medal winner Kat Copeland, her face a joy of stunned non-comprehension as her lightweight double rowing partner Sophie Hosking weeps blissful tears behind her.

Second earlier Copeland's wide eyed disbelief in her boat as the Team GB pair cross the finish line is to become one of the defining images of the London Games.

Meanwhile a little time later over in Cardiff the Team GB footballers, after 120 minutes of lumping the ball, go out on penalties to the faster, more coherent South Koreans.

The taker of the missed penalty, Daniel Sturridge, already a multi-millionaire while achieving hardly anything, gracelessly refuses any consoling pats from colleagues and takes his stony face down the tunnel. There'll be no dignity in defeat interviews with him and football, GB style, thankfully exits these golden games.

Nothing sums up how high sport can soar and how low it can sink than these two scenes. In one dedication, dignity, passion and sheer unbridled joy shine. In the other how sport, pumped to bursting with money and populated with primped, pampered and over privileged young men, can lose its soul.

These Olympics have been a staggering whirligig of emotional highs, tears, and bloody good times. The recession and hard times can wait outside the door for another week. Whether you're Irish, British or both it is the celebration of humanity, not the colour of the flag, that has made the spirit soar these past days.

Did anyone see eventual winner of the 400m Kirani James from Grenada approach Oscar Pistorius and ask to exchange name tags after the South African had lost in the semi-final heat?

Pistorius, known as Blade Runner, had his legs amputated at 11 months old and competes on prosthetic legs. He didn't make the final and many hard-faced sports experts believe its unfair for him to compete in "able bodied" sports at all. Not the graceful James who said, "I was honoured to be out here on the track with him" and blew away the naysayers.

And London, probably the greatest city in the world, has risen magnificently to the occasion. Its multi-cultural, multi everything nature has been perfect for this celebration of the human race and when layered with the, perhaps often overlooked, essential decency of the people of these isles who have swarmed into the venues and onto the streets has made for a heady brew.

Yet end it must and for the sports fans among us the juggernaut of Premiership football is hoving into view, knocking down all in its path. Soon cliche and surliness will replace joy and honesty. Witness Team GB's Martyn Rooney going out of the 400m. "I just wasn't good enough. I apologise." Message to the other Rooney. It takes breathtaking honesty to say that a minute after stepping off the track after four years of unheralded, blood sweat and tears.

Football boiled down to its essentials remains the ideal beautiful game.

The Spanish have reminded us of that fact. But in its self obsessed bubble it has long lost touch with those who support it. It's arrogance is overwhelming, the sense of entitlement shown by many of its barely literate performers nauseating.

Humility is largely absent. It has taken London 2012 to remind us of this.

The amazing number of individual stories of triumph and tragedy, perseverance (take a bow Alan Campbell) and sacrifice have ensured the bloated corporate nature of the Olympic movement or even security scandals have not been the story these past days. So yes Kat you will be on a stamp. First Class of course.

While we are at it what chance of replacing the lamentable Gary Lineker with the brilliant Clare Balding on Match of the Day this season. And while you're at it kick Hansen and Shearer off the sofa and bring in Colin Jackson and Denise Lewis instead. Fanciful of course but I'd watch.

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