MIDWAY: It’s just a game
To a degree that this Australian resident of Britain finds bemusing and baffling, media coverage of Team GB’s splendid medal haul has been framed almost exclusively in reference to the relative lack of success enjoyed — this time — by my homeland. BBC commentators gloat incessantly over the medal table. News crews wander Sydney crowing at bypassers.
“Find an Australian,” jeered the headline above Simon Barnes’s dispatch for the London Times, “so I can talk about sport.” “Aussies no longer rule, OK,” hooted the same day’s Sun tabloid.
“Having got our nose in front of the off-colour wizards from Oz, the battle now is to keep it there.” Indeed. And perhaps, even, one day Britons will own their own newspapers.
This country has been as kind and encouraging to me over the past 18 years as it has to many other newcomers, and I’d be churlish to the point of deportability to be other than delighted by the triumphs of Hoy, Adlington, Ohuruogu et al.
However, as Great Britain begins greedily anticipating a tonnage of gold on home turf (London 2012) four years hence, I’d modestly counsel being careful what you wish for. If British sportspeople have, as conventional wisdom has decided, slung aside the plucky underdog mantle, it may not be altogether a good thing.
Australians do not merely play to win. We play to destroy: to choke the opposition’s rivers with dead, sow their pastures with salt and burn what little we’ve left standing. There’s a lot to be said for winning. Like, for example, that it’s preferable to losing.
But other things matter, perhaps more: grace, sportsmanship, some understanding that it’s just a game. These are qualities which, I am wincingly aware, have not been dominant in Australian coverage of Britain’s Olympic success — but which are still at large in British sport to a commendable degree.
Something precious would be lost, were the British to become more like the less enlightened
foreigners of whom Flanders & Swann sang in their Song Of Patriotic Prejudice: “They argue with umpires, they cheer when they’ve won/And practice beforehand, which ruins the fun.”