To a degree that this Australian resident of Britain finds bemusing and baffling, media coverage of Team GBâ€™s splendid medal haul has been framed almost exclusively in reference to the relative lack of success enjoyed â€” this time â€” by my homeland. BBC commentators gloat incessantly over the medal table. News crews wander Sydney crowing at bypassers.
â€œFind an Australian,â€ jeered the headline above Simon Barnesâ€™s dispatch for the London Times, â€œso I can talk about sport.â€ â€œAussies no longer rule, OK,â€ hooted the same dayâ€™s Sun tabloid.
â€œHaving got our nose in front of the off-colour wizards from Oz, the battle now is to keep it there.â€ 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 Iâ€™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, Iâ€™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 oppositionâ€™s rivers with dead, sow their pastures with salt and burn what little weâ€™ve left standing. Thereâ€™s a lot to be said for winning. Like, for example, that itâ€™s preferable to losing.
But other things matter, perhaps more: grace, sportsmanship, some understanding that itâ€™s just a game. These are qualities which, I am wincingly aware, have not been dominant in Australian coverage of Britainâ€™s Olympic success â€” 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: â€œThey argue with umpires, they cheer when theyâ€™ve won/And practice beforehand, which ruins the fun.â€