I belong to a huge minority—the minority that shunned the Olympic opening ceremony because none of us were really sports fans in the first place and had not yet recovered from the previous two months unrelenting blanket coverage of football and tennis. Even that had not prepared me for the BBC monomiacal fixation where one or other of BBC1/2, BBC3, BBC24 and BBCWestminster provided unending coverage of the Olympics.
I was appalled. For this kind of entertainment fascism I pay a license fee? Then, because there was almost nothing else, I started watching. The first that intrigued me was absence of jingoism compared to Oplympics past: yes, TeamGB got coverage…but commentary acknowledged the myriad of other superb performances on display.
And that was the second thing—outstanding performances by athletes you’re never heard of from countries you’ve barely heard of. This tweaked my instinctive Scots contrarian streak to support the underdog…and yet be nonplussed that some of the underdogs were actually winning…and that Ethiopian distance or Jamaican sprint runners are nobody’s underdogs.
And so I came to my third realisation—that, if the athlete had physically made it to London they were each going to have a fair shake of the stick. Each event seemed to go off without a hitch: the facilities were there and worked; organisation seemed first-class; a myriad of events went off where they should when they should.
But most of all, the part when I normally allow my sport-indifference to switch off—the post-event interview—was icing on the cake. My allergy comes from footballers talking endless fatuous rubbish to barely-literate interviewers. This was so different. Whether matter-of-factness from Bradley Wiggins or obvious humanity from Kristin Armstrong in the world beating cycling team, the infectiously radiant enthusiam of Nicola Adams in the boxing ring or the unflappable sticking with stratospheric points scores in the dive pool by Tom Daley, it was the most powerfully positive display of human spirit I’ve witnessed.
So I (and I suspect many like me) became a convert, realising my lack of personal interest could have allowed me to miss this experience that might not (I reluctantly confess) have happened, had the Beeb not thrown the kitchen sink at coverage.
(Chomp…chomp…chomp—the sound of humble pie going down á la mode)
All of which made me the angrier when I read Eddie Barns in today’s SoS. Yes, I know their consistent position defending the Union. But, for once, they might try to rise above forever making sow’s ears out of silk purses. Eddie manages to fabricate an article out of the ‘news’ that TeamGB would still include Scotland in Rio 2016, whatever the outcome of a referendum here in 2014.
But, much more that that, Eddie writes as if this matters, as if the First Minister, who has clearly stated his desire to see Scotland have its own Olympic team, is even now whipping cybernats up into a frenzy at such outrage. If this is the best that Eddie and his Editors can do to further the independence debate, the sooner they have him reporting shinty from Fort William the better.
The achievements of Team GB were superb. I have not heard anyone trying to make capital from the fact that had the Scots within that been a team on their own, they would lie 11th (below Australia but above Japan) and rUK would drop to 4th behind Russia. They WERE a team—along with their English, Welsh, etc cousins. And, had they not trained, worked, lived and bonded with their team-mates (quite apart from the superb training facilities the UK could afford) their theoretical performance would have been just that.
Because the Olympics are a good example of what could happen after 2014. A vote for independence is about running our own affairs and having our own voice on key issues like who we ally/trade/bond with…and who we don’t. A Scotland standing isolated was never sensible, nor part of the agenda. Once we have independence, weighty but secondary questions like the monarchy, currency, alliances and, yes, Olympic arrangements can be discussed, negotiated and settled in the fullness of time.
For years now, Nationalists have taken the broader view, the one that asks what is good for the Scottish people in the long run. No-one seems to want a UK football team but the British Lions tour regularly. The choice on Olympic membership will not be made by “Craig Reedie, a vice-president of the International Olympic Committee and former chairman of the British Olympic Association” or some other self-important flunky—as Eddie Barns and his ilk would have you believe.
So, stop the world so that Scotland can get on; we have bigger fish to fry in the meantime. But if we did want our own Olympic team, we might insist on shinty being included as a sport. The only downside is that we might have to thole Eddie Barns reporting on it.