Monday, May 21, 2007

A Scottish Olympic Team?

Not being one of life's natural athletes, with the exception of football and occasionally rugby, sport is something I find it hard to get too worked up about these days. I go to the gym, I occasionally play football, I like to swim when I can find the time, but nowadays life just seems to get in the way.

It's not that I don't admire the dedication of our athletes or their physical prowess, it's just that, well, in general I'm not very interested. Frankly, I'd rather go to the pub or read a book or stick on some music or phone a friend. But for some reason, regardless as to the sport, my interest level increases when it's a Scot that's competing.

There's nothing particularly logical or rational about it, it's just the way it is. Consequently, a lifetime of complete indifference towards cricket melted away when Scotland competed in this year's World Cup. Similarly, my disdain for tennis in general and Wimbledon in particular disappeared when Andy Murray came on the scene.

Suddenly, I started to see that men's tennis could be about much more than simply hitting the ball as hard as you could. There was, or could be, an artistry in there too, allowing brains to beat brawn. More interestingly, I began to see that each point was about manoeuvring your opponent into a position where you could play your winning shot, while trying to get them to run around so they would tire first. I saw subtlety where before I had seen nothing but brute force. And if I were 13 instead of 30, I'd probably be out on a tennis court right now, determined to be the next Andy Murray.

I'm racking my brains just now to think of any non-Scottish sports stars who've ever had that same sort of effect on me when competing at national level, and you know what? I'm really struggling. I used to be an alright sprinter, but neither Carl Lewis or Linford Christie did it for me in the way that Alan Wells did. Steve Redgrave's achievements in rowing are beyond compare, yet somehow I still feel more pride at the all-Scottish curling team wining Olympic Gold. As I said, there's nothing logical or rational about it. It's purely an emotional thing.

I was 10 when the Commonwealth Games last came to Edinburgh, and it inspired all the kids in my street to get into badminton, bowling, running, cycling - anything. It was happening in our city, in our country - there were friends of friends of big brothers competing; people from your dad's bowling club in the Scottish team - it was exciting, it was inspiring, and made all the more so for us because the athletes were competing as a Scottish team.

Like I said, there's no logic or reason for why we should have felt that way - it's just the way it was. In the 1980's, Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe might have had their titanic battles over the 800m crown, and Steve Cram might have been the golden boy of distance running. However, it was Tom McKean, Yvonne Murray and Liz Lynch as she then was, who got us putting on our trainers and running round the park in our little corner of Edinburgh.

Does wearing a Scottish shirt put an extra spring in your step; a British one make you run with the psychological effect of wearing divers' boots, or vice versa? I don't know. What I do know is that you could make Morris Dancing an Olympic Sport and I'd stay up till half 4 in the morning to watch the Scottish team. However, while I'll sit glued to the 6 Nations playing rugby, I'll switch over when the British Lions play, not because it offends me as a Scottish nationalist (it doesn't), but because I just don't care. There, I've said it. Go away and shoot me.

Individual talent is no respecter of national boundaries, and the best talents train at the best facilities all round the world. That's why I find the argument that athletes competing in a Scottish Olympic team would be shut out from British facilities that we'd helped to pay for, such a bizarre argument. Similarly, the idea that our athletes would win fewer medals than they would as part of a UK team is utterly risible, epitomising all that's worst about the 'awww, we're rubbish!', 'expect the worst and you'll never be disappointed', loser mentality that stifles so much talent and potential in Scotland.

Ultimately, the arguments for a British Olympic team hold the same force as arguments to scrap the 'home' nations' football and rugby teams to allow us to compete as a bigger entity. Shared facilities, no duplication of taxation to pay for it all, everyone working as part of a team, the shared camaraderie as we all come together as one, the pride in our collective breast as our flag runs up the pole to the sound of 'God save the Queen'... aye, right. There might be a logic in there, somewhere, but even if there is it still leaves me completely cold.

We rightly celebrate the individual talent, but what is it that inspires the talent to reveal itself in the first place, or develops the enthusiasm for sport which lasts a lifetime? If I and my friends from 20 years ago are anything to go by, it's from seeing people just like you, who come from places like you come from, competing and winning at the highest level. The way to ensure that is probably a Scottish Olympic team, which everyone can support, regardless as to their politics. But let's not fall out over it. It's only sport, after all...

UPDATE: Just found an opposing view from ex-Labour candidate Kezia Dugdale. Each to their own.


Jeff said...

Yes, that's all very well, but do you have a logical or rational reason for your point of view...?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a logical or rational reason for supporting their country's team over and above other countries' teams?

Would more Scots athletes get to the Olympics if there were a Scottish team?

I also don't care much about sport but I suppose it would be 'kewl' to have a Scottish team at the Olympics. However I imagine successes would be few and far between given the smallness of Scotland's population. One of the objecting athletes had a valid point that he would have less chance of success in a Scottish relay team. This wouldnt apply to non-team sports though.

Richard Thomson said...

I've already said there's nothing particularly logical or rational about it, Jeff. And as 'anonymous' asks, does anyone have a logical or rational reason for supporting their country's team over and above other countries' teams?

All I'm saying is that even when I was a kid, seeing someone compete for Scotland did far more for me than seeing the same person in a UK team. If the outcome of that inspiration is that more young people get involved in sports, whether to be champions or just for their own enjoyment, then that has to be a good thing. And if by competing as Scotland rather than as part of a UK team we can inspire more youngsters to do those things, that surely has to be worth something?

Jeff said...

OK, to give a serious answer to what is after all a top notch post, I do think you make some valid points.

I've posted on my blog my sheer ambivalence to the whole issue but your point about football and rugby is a good one. The inverse of the Scottish Olympic team argument is for the Scottish football/rugby teams to join up with England etc.

Yes, we'd be more likely to win something but I don't think I'd be able to put into words how angry and disappointed I'd be if this ever happened. So the logical conclusion for me should be that a Scottish Olympics team is surely something that I should be more interested in and feel more emotionally attached to.

I live and die with every jammy goal we get against Italy/Holland not to mention the shambolic performances against the Faroes and Lithuania. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

So sorry to use your blog as a space to finally come to my own view but I think supporting Jock McTavish in the 100m sprint (heat 1) rather than Darren Campbell in the final itself is something I'd be all for.

My view remains that this isn't an astute politically tactical move for Alex however.

Richard Thomson said...

'So sorry to use your blog as a space to finally come to my own view but I think supporting Jock McTavish in the 100m sprint (heat 1) rather than Darren Campbell in the final itself is something I'd be all for'.

Not at all - that's what it's all about. And I know what you mean about the jammy goals against Italy/Holland (or even the sublime ones against Holland from messrs. Gemmell and James McFadden). There's just something about supporting a Scottish team, no matter how good or bad they are, that just isn't there for me at a British level. I'm a genuine Anglophile (my knowledge of Wales and NI being somewhat limited), but 'Team GB' just leaves me unmoved, I'm afraid.

'My view remains that this isn't an astute politically tactical move for Alex however'.

You might well be right. But what a difference that we're actually able to have a proper debate about these things now. As Malcolm Rifkind used to love quoting from Chairman Mao - 'Let a thousand flowers bloom'

Richard Havers said...

Richard, to me what is all rather disappointing about the Euro 2016 push and the Scottish Olympic team debate is that it's the sort of predictable ol' tosh that I'd expect from Labour. I thought we might see something my substantive from the SNP. I say this fully understanding the fact that success in sports does have some kind of knock on effect across the rest of society, although I'm not really sure how much.

It all seems a tad trivial when compared to the real issues that we need to look at. Of course things like the economy are a tad more tricky.

The four people I’ve spoken to about this today have ranged from incredulity to laughing out loud, which makes my post all rather reasonable!

Anonymous said...

That straw poll is interesting, Richard Havers. Apparently there is an organisation which has polled 7-to-1 in favour of the idea of a Scottish olympic team. Even amongst Labour supporters (100% unionist dontcha know) the support was 70 something percent.

As for whether it's an astute move, as far as I know this is SNP policy and Salmond was merely responding to a question. This wasnt an orchestrated announcement. The hit-piece, complete with quotes from the 'anti' camp does seem to have been orchestrated, though.

The 2016 thing came out in sync with the euro final in Glasgow - understandable again. People need to take into account newspaper spin when judging 'astuteness'.

I've gone from 'not fussed' to 'go for it' purely as a result of the negative responses.

Anonymous said...

Having had a keek at your blog Richard, I can see you're a unionist of the 'torn-faced snorter' school, so I imagine your straw poll may be a product of the company you keep.

Alternatively perhaps those interrogated knew a positive response might trigger an extended sneer from your good self? ;)

Richard Thomson said...

Fair enough Richard, though it's far too easy in my book to start going on about things like 'schools'n'jobs'n'hospitals' whenever someone mentions the supposedly less important human endeavours like sport or culture. The 'haven't you got more important things to worry about?' argument is designed as a debate closer, nothing more. It should be possible in a mature society like ours to pay attention to more than one issue simultaneously.

I despise the miserablism which pervades aspects of Scottish life, the cod 'realism' that people use as an excuse to whinge and disparage, without ever offering or doing anything themselves which might make things better. It's only a small part of the overall picture, but if a bid for the European Championships and a Scottish Olympic team makes people raise their sights and helps them feel a bit better about themselves, then they're cheap at any price in my book.

Richard Havers said...

Anon, I'm too much of a realist to be a torn faced snorter I think :)

If you’re the anon who posted about the BBC on my blog you'll perhaps see my point a little more clearly.

But you're right I am a unionist, but as I've constantly said I get the reason why people are Nats I just don't happen to agree that it's a good idea. The responses were from across the spectrum, including two who voted SNP.

My point, in part, is that I don't think the debate on Euro 2016 or the Olympics helps people raise their game. I don't think it helps them even if we achieved it. Having said that getting the football would be brilliant for the economy, so I whole heartedly support it.

I take Richard's point about the spin that's put on these things.

Richard Havers said...

Richard, the alacrity in which Labour and the Lib Dems have jumped on the Olympic bandwagon just goes to prove the difficulty of managing the situation. It's going to be a long four years!

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