Culture can often move society more than any change in the legislature. Music has had a liberating effect. Films and television have communicated injustice. But over the last few days, sport has pushed British society further toward the ever advancing light of progress.
London 2012 first and foremost has been an extraordinary display of sport, athleticism and achievement. As a sports fan, this is my main reason for being gripped by the last few weeks. But it has also nudged Britain along its meandering course of change.
“Events, my dear boy, events.” The events of the last week or so have brought us all excitement, but one day in particular brought us the events that, for all of us who saw them, will stay with us forever.
Jessica Ennis decided simply winning gold was not enough, and that she was going to win in emphatic style. The way she stormed to the front on the home straight of her 800 metres race was symptomatic of the attitude not just of a winner, but of a champion. And behind her, Katarina Johnson-Thompson set us up for a 2016 dream that actually doesn’t seem far-fetched.
Not long after, Greg Rutherford, a cocky, good looking lad from a state school in Milton Keynes flew through the air to win long-jump gold. The way he played the crowd before his final, inconsequential jump before just running straight through the sand was superb.
And then, to cap off proceedings, Mo Farah used the last lap of his 10,000 metre run as a conductor’s stick, directing the orchestra of millions of British vocal chords to the most sustained, loud roars heard in a generation. Words probably can’t sum up the feelings a lot of us felt when we watched his face beam in uncontrollable joy as he crossed the line in first place.
Ennis has become the ultimate national treasure. Successful, beautiful and humble; she is also mixed race, has brown skin, a Yorkshire accent and is a woman. She’ll adorn the billboards advertising products from any company that can possibly afford her. She’ll inspire thousands of people into sport. Her face will be seen and her voice will be heard for years. The fact that a woman gripped the nation through sport is significant. Women’s sport has always played second billing to men’s. It still will for now. But she has ensured it will progress in ways unimaginable before this Olympics. A huge piece in the jigsaw of progress.
And along with Farah, she has also moved racial politics in this country. Seeing 2 brown-skinned people draped in the Union Flag, speaking elatedly in British accents about their pride at winning medals for Britain will do incredible things. The media have responded in kind. Almost with a shrug of unknowing, Farah has been framed as a British hero. It spoke of an acceptance that has been hard to come by. Tony Blair, one of the people most responsible for this Games being in London, is one of British politics’ most ardent believers in the positive force of multiculturalism. He didn’t merely support multiculturalism. He didn’t just enact policies that helped it along or speak words in favour of it. He spoke about it in a way that he knew multiculturalism just is. In the same way, the British media spoke of Mo Farah like he was British. No caveats: he just is. And so they should. “This is my country” were his words after being asked by some idiot if he’d have been more proud to represent his birthplace of Somalia.
Those words should be plastered across this country.
And Britain, as well as British sport, could do with some of Rutherford’s charisma. Primarily a football fan, I get bored senseless by the characterless, humourless players we seem to produce. The interviews that throw out the same clichés week after week. The players rolling into training grounds in their big, black cars, blacked out by big, black windows, their eyes covered by big, black sunglasses. Rutherford’s Bolt-like celebrations were the perfect antidote. He strutted around full of charisma, basking in the genuine ultimate glory. And he provided a direct link back to Danny Boyle’s amazing opening ceremony – of a Britain finally finding its confidence and its place in the world: self-assured, over-performing and secure in its own skin.
Now: enough of the politics of it. Let’s keep on winning things!
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