I hope they’re all suitably contrite now. Did you hear the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and a whole troop of Welshmen? Oh and the Kiwi. What does he know about history and tradition? Did they bother to watch in Edinburgh, or were they too busy trying to remember the words of the Arbroath Declaration? Well it doesn’t matter now anyway. Because we won. The Lions pulled off a first series victory in sixteen years, scattering the Aussies across the Sydney turf and causing quite a few to gorge on humble pie. Warren Gatland ignored the romantics and went with his own hard instincts, delivering a team which, regardless of individual origins, was positively bursting with pride in the jersey. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?
First, an admission. I am no expert on rugby union, would never claim to be much more than a casual follower and some of the game’s technical aspects go straight over my head. Usually I stick to sports I feel qualified, through years of keen observation and sometimes unhealthy obsession, to write about with confidence in my knowledge and interpretation. But I’ve always watched and enjoyed the Six Nations, such an intoxicating mix of passion, intensity and (usually) good-natured nationalism. From my slightly detached perspective I can appreciate the physicality and the creativity without worrying too much about the strategic detail. I’m not completely clueless though and, based on scant but not insubstantial evidence, I’m nevertheless going to use this platform to predict how I think this year’s competition might pan out. This, then, is an outsider’s assessment.
A collection of track and field writings from the London 2012 Olympic Diary:
It was a magical, unforgettable night. These are relatively lean times for British athletics, and the success of the London Games from a sporting perspective would inevitably rest heavily on performances in the main stadium. If the track and field contingent failed to deliver, achievements elsewhere might be overshadowed by the subsequent inquest. With so few world class competitors, the weight of this intense burden fell on the shoulders of a small, elite group. The prospect of buckling under the strain was very real.
Sport can provide a showcase for the best of humanity, but it also has a darker side. At Upton Park tomorrow night its squalid underbelly will be brazenly paraded. Two boxers, last seen acting out a disgraceful street brawl at an official press conference in Munich, trading insults among flying cameras and broken glass, will take to the ring to settle their differences in a more conventional environment. They will both pocket a tidy remuneration for the privilege and will be goaded by a baying mob in the manner of a public execution. The once noble art has inflicted many indignities upon itself in recent times but the meeting of British heavyweights David Haye and Dereck Chisora takes its battered reputation spiralling to a new low.
It appears likely, pending appeal, that Newcastle Falcons will be plying their trade once more in Rugby Union’s Aviva Premiership next season. Likely, but not certain, since the RFU’s contentious decision to deny London Welsh a place amongst the elite should they emerge triumphant from next week’s Championship play-off is destined for vigorous challenge. From a partisan point of view, this messy outcome is welcome as the Falcons, narrowly relegated on the last day of the season, will be reprieved. In terms of natural justice, however, it is another example of sporting prowess being circumvented by peripheral, largely commercial, considerations.
A question for your conscience: If Dwain Chambers wins a gold medal at this summer’s Olympic Games and stands proudly atop the podium mouthing ‘God Save The Queen’, will you be feeling slightly queasy? Will you be able to share in his joy, a reformed drugs cheat conquering the world, and doing so in your name? Is ‘reformed’ the key word in that sentence? After all, he will have served his punishment and doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance? Or do you take the attitude that there can be no sporting redemption for one who has so blatantly undermined the integrity of the very ideals embodied by the five intertwined rings? The successful overturning of the British Olympic Association’s (BOA) lifetime ban on those found guilty of doping means that these and other awkward questions must now be faced.