So, the Olympics are over and I managed to put aside many many hours to spend on my sofa multi-screening sport and discovering some of the mess-with-your-head combinations available: Basketball/Handball, Basketball/Volleyball and of course, Basketball/Boxing (Yes, I genuinely thought for a split second that two basketball players had started sparring).
But I also had the wonderful opportunity to actually go to the Olympic Park for one day. Lizzie Armitstead was being interviewed by the BBC as we walked past their strange shipping container-stack/studio:
What struck me at this point was just how utterly stunned she looked by the (relatively modest) crowd that had gathered outside and were cheering constantly. While this was relatively early on in the week, she was one of the very first medallists and was absolutely adored by the crowd underneath her. Later examples are the same: From the truly excellent “We’re going to be on a stamp!” from the rower Kat Copeland, to the other end of the event and Mo Farah having simply no idea how to celebrate his incredible achievements in the heat of the moment, winning Olympic athletes have hit the pinnacle of their sport.
And it being a home Olympics must have made it even more special. Chris Hoy won his 6th medal, but the sound of a home crowd singing his National Anthem was enough to set him off crying for the first time. Laura Trott standing open-mouthed as the crowd cheer her achievement. Jess Ennis – expected for the last 4 years to deliver gold and somehow, ignoring the immense pressure and storming it. Truly amazing moments, enough to make me shed a few tears of my own at times. I unexpectedly won an award once – about 40-50 people were politely clapping for a bit and that left me speechless, so I don’t know how these incredible people coped with a 80,000 seater stadium pouring waves of adoration directly at you.
Unfortunately, now it’s over and we’re left with football. Two weeks of athletes that can be adored with every step and smile, replaced with the likes of Ashley “Only Fifty-five-f*cking-grand a week?” Cole. I do love football, but sometimes…it’s hard. And it’s not helped by the media style of reporting these player’s off-field antics and the oddly high expectations placed on them.
When reporting scandals, it’s not uncommon to hear footballers referred to as “role models”, which has always struck me as an absolutely bizarre choice of words. Sure, I can see why they might be an aspirational target (although I avoided that temptation by being terrible at football), but as people – not really. A lot of these people are basically young boys, taken out of normal society and near-drowned in money and with very little moral or even general social guidance. While sometimes this leads to the semi-endearing eccentricity of the likes of Mario Ballotelli, more often that not, it simply leads to a person with money….and not much else.
Some Olympians would kill for a gold medal. If you told a footballer they could pay their way out, some might do the same. Maybe money is the issue, but I’d be surprised if Jess Ennis and Chris Hoy aren’t pretty comfortable nowadays through sponsorship as well. I’d suggest it’s more likely to be the simple act of displacement – something that is common in other areas of reality (The famous Bullingdon Club is the example that comes to mind), as well as a topic that is deeply explored in books like “Lord of the Flies”. Perhaps all that needs to be done is to simply treat footballers as normal people and wait for them to act like it?