Team GB not only won many medals at the Olympics, but they ignited the Olympic spirit in all of us. From Katherine Grainger at last getting her hands on the gold medal, to Gemma Gibbons’s emotional tribute to her mother when she won her Judo semi-final, Great Britain’s Olympians competed with humility as well as success.
In fact, such was the success of Team GB in the other sports, our men’s Olympic football campaign passed relatively unnoticed. In many ways, it was typical that the team should be knocked out in that most British of ways, on penalty shootout, but what struck me was the criticism of the attitudes of footballers when compared to the Olympic competitors.
…sheer amount of money…
Football is a victim of its own success. Massive television exposure and the sheer amount of money in the game means that football and its players are scrutinised much more than our Olympians. But, football players can learn some important qualities from our Olympic heroes.
The lack of respect for referees, so endemic in the game, is something that sets football apart from the other sports. Though obviously disappointed at being disqualified from the Team Sprint, it is hard to imagine cyclists Victoria Pendleton or Jess Varnish abusing those who made that decision directly to their faces, even though they felt pretty hard done by at the decision. Perhaps it is the fact that footballers earn so much that they feel they are entitled for every decision to go their way, but an increased respect for referees, however grudging, would be a positive improvement for football in this country.
…ability to deliver…
But perhaps more importantly, it is the ability to deliver in the most important of situations which is the main difference between our Olympians, and footballers, particularly our English footballers. In training four years for races that sometimes last only a matter of seconds, our Olympians know that they must deliver exactly at the right time to make their preparation worthwhile. By contrast, it seems footballers, playing so many fixtures, do not appear able to lift themselves for major international tournaments in quite the same way.
So often faltering on the big stage, English footballers in particular must learn that delivering when the world is watching is how your name is made. That, so often the failing of the England football team, is what can lift our footballers to the kind of success that our Olympians enjoyed during 16 wonderful days.