Yesterday the torch came through our part of the UK. My youngest daughters school had been part of an arts project gearing up for the event, and in fact Sports Day had been planned to be held in the afternoon. Not suprisingly, this was cancelled due to the rain but many of us who weren’t going to a larger evening celebration held in the City turned up to wave banners and cheer the torch on. But if you read my initial response from yesterday you’ll see it left me feeling disappointed. The children had a good time, waving and cheering but by the time the Torch itself came past, they had waved and cheered at so many lorries, coaches, cars, police bikes and buses (all part of the torch entourage) that it simply proved they’d wave and cheer at anything and invariably had been.
It was messy but the preparation wasn’t; the cleaning of the route, the security, the management of traffic, parking, access – we have never seen (and probably will never see again) so many Wiltshire Council vans around our part of South Wiltshire and they did a great job. I had visited the London2012 website and looked at the stories of the torch bearers with my youngest, it didn’t translate to the relay itself. Branding has finally overshadowed the act of ‘sport’ in every way it can.
I was, for once, grateful to ‘macdonalds’, as they weren’t evident, although I had been conjuring images of obese people in tracksuits handing out free burgers prior to the Torch’s arrival. There were lots of people passing by on the coaches/buses/lorries behind shaded windows and I couldn’t tell you who they were, only that any sense of ‘sport’ or athleticism was swamped. One or two people took the trouble to say hi to the crowds as they passed, but who knows who they were. Perhaps, if all the torch relay participants had their kit emblazoned with a one or two word description of who they were COACH, TEACHER, MUM, OLYMPIC ATHLETE, CANCER SURVIVOR, WEIGHT LIFTER, LOCAL MAN, RUNNER, MINOR CELEB, CLEANER, ACTOR, CHEF, YOUTH MENTOR, etc., maybe that would have conveyed a taste of the stories of personal challenge and participation or at least, have encouraged people to go away and find out.
Afterwards I talked to a lady who had seen the torch relay in 1948 who was quite bemused by all the fuss today, compared to the simplicity of the relay back then, (just after the second world war in another decade of austerity) which evoked ‘wild rejoicing’ by the crowds. She had been waiting by some pupils from torchbearer and Deputy Head, Neil Mawdsley’s school and by the grandmother of profoundly deaf torchbearer Caroline Hurley, who had flown over from South Africa to see her grand-daughter run with the torch. This lady was confused by the way the torch had been overshadowed by the entourage and the fact that it cost £199 for torchbearers to buy their own torch. She was sad that the pride and values of Olympic spirit had been subsumed by both commercialism and what someone else had referred to as ‘over organisation resulting in spits and spots’. I wondered if our part of the route was not typical and whether other parts of the relay had been better ‘presented’ and come across in a more visually inspirational way.
I was reminded of Eddie Izzards remarkable run around the UK as part of Sports Relief and how it caught the imagination and hearts of people whose towns, cities and villages he ran through, how inspirational it was to those who met or saw him and I reflect on that today as I think back on yesterday and am left flattened by yesterdays experience. It just goes to show, good stage management requires good stage managers and no matter how much money you throw at something, you can’t make a sows purse out of a pig’s ear. Let’s hope in future years someone finds a way to rescue Sport as a whole from greedy, commercial interest and brings it back to the core of ‘sporting values’ whatever they are, for I fear that on a ‘national scale’ they have been lost – team, challenge, committment, endeavour, honour, physical prowess and mental integrity?