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Vanity of medals haul no cause to celebrate

Published 24/08/2016

Belfast Telegraph letters to the Editor
Belfast Telegraph letters to the Editor

Though we have certainly come a long way from the catastrophe of the Atlanta Games in 1996 when the UK came 36th in the medal table behind Belgium and North Korea, it has to be said there is little tangible to show for the triumphs of 20 years later.

Yes, Team GB sits second in the overall standings. News bulletins lead with "history being made" and extraordinary hyperbole as if sport was news. And maybe it's the investment of media in the jollies of gold medals and exclusive coverage that leads to the frankly embarrassing and defensive coverage of important issues like doping, bribery and cheating.

Certainly, not for sports the need to demonstrate tourism value, or the need to show how many jobs it creates, or how much money it pays back in taxes. There isn't even the need for cycling, rowing and athletics to demonstrate a democratic distribution of lottery cash.

All that's needed is that the nation has a sense of pride and enjoys the media gush about "gold rush" and a peculiar sense of national dominance, either British or Irish. It's enough that there are "elite" athletes. It's enough that they are acknowledged as "world beaters". The rest of us can pretend that wee kiddies in schools are somehow "inspired" to be elite, even though rowing and cycling continue to be dominated by white middle-class people with easy access to world-class facilities, and Team NI failed to return with any medals at all from Rio.

Of course, it's little to do with talent and all to do with cash. Research after the London Olympics found that the largest amounts of UK Sport money were spent on rowing (£27m), cycling (£26m) and athletics (£25m). In short, each Olympic medal won by Team GB in 2012 cost an average of just over £4.5m.

Do we even know how much or how little Olympic scale cash is invested in Northern Ireland? Are we getting our share? Does anyone even care? Once upon a time there was talk of more Olympic-sized pools. There was rumour of a velodrome. Meanwhile, other Lottery investment in NI, in arts and heritage for example, is not only squeezed, but in fact despised by the media, which loves its analogy of "how many hospital beds would that buy?"

Well. How many hospital beds would the price of one medal buy? How many crumbling buildings would it save? How many clown doctors in children's hospitals? Especially when that medal hasn't been won by anyone from here.

OBSERVER

Belfast

Belfast Telegraph

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