Who do you want to beat in the medals table?

As one of many people who is delighted by the huge success of UK competitors in Beijing my delight is the positive one for them, not the negative one that we are beating the Aussies. The rash of stories saying that the true competition is between us and them, and our victory over Australia is sweet is far from the Olympic spirit, and certainly does not chime with my feelings.

There are two things I like about this Olympics.

The first is to see new faces on TV of people I have not been told much about in the mainstream media, winning Gold and Silver medals. It is stunning that so many Brits are the best in the world at their chosen sports, and have reached that pinnacle without the media boring us all rigid with details of their private lives, the contents of their fridge and their behaviour on their last night out. Celebrity may sell papers, and personal lives exposed may be what many want, but there are people like me who want to read about what people are good at without having to wade through endless details about which supermarket they use and what they wear. Usually we hear about just two or three competitors who have a “profile” – and sometimes flop at their event. This time we are hearing about an army of great sportsmen and women who have the blessing of little profile, but are just great at what they do.

The second is to see just how many people from the UK can excel at what they do through their own graft and application. We are told that it’s the money and the coaches and the facilities. I am sure they help, but you can’t get away from the fact – and should not want to – that it is also down to the guts, determination, and will to succeed of a new generation of British sports people who will not take losing for an answer. No coach can make a person win a medal unless they make the mental commitment to wanting one, and put the time in to benefit from the coaching. So let’s hear it for our athletes.

The joy is no greater for me because we are taking more medals than Australia. Indeed, I apply a different kind of cricket test to who I support. If there is no Brit in a final then I would naturally support the runner from Jamaica or the swimmer from Australia, as I like to see the cricket playing countries of the world do well. I find I am always welcome in them, that we can do a lot of business in them, and that there is a natural camaraderie and friendship.They do not want to lecture me about the need to change the way my country is governed.

For those who do like joy at others’ failings it is more likely for Eurosceptics to be in our position well above all those EU countries that are constantly lecturing and hectoring us to be “better Europeans”, to learn from their success using the “European model”. Whenever I visit many continental countries I am made to defend my Euroscepticism and told that I am wrong to want a freer Europe with less government and less petty minded officiousness everywhere. The more they lecture me to love “European solidarity”, to sign Lisbon, and give away the remaining birthrights of our freedoms, the more I feel the opposite. I suspect many Brits who do harbour negative feelings are keener to beat some European countries than Australia.

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20 Comments

  1. Letters From A Tory
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Bearing in mind that most of our gold medallists went to private school and therefore DID have the money, coaching and facilities, I think something is still badly broken in our system.

    http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

    Reply: Is that easy to prove? The Osborne speech provides a devastating critique of how the Labour years have been bad for the poor.

  2. James
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I see you’ve been voted the best MP blog by the readers of Iain Dale’s magazine. Well deserved too John.
    Reply: Thanks for that good piece of news. No medals, I fear!

  3. Freeborn John
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    The Anglo-Australian rivalry is really only playful jousting. I have enjoyed some of their sense of humour on the topic such as the following ‘The Poms are back’ piece on the Sydney Morning Herald blog.

    http://blogs.smh.com.au/olympics/johnbirmingham/2008/08/20/thepomsareba.html

    I also read a more serious piece too in the Australian press about all the funding of sport by different countries now becoming a spiralling arms war in which each country spends ever more for less return in the form of medals.

    The country I am glad to see us ahead of is Russia, and perhaps Germany. Any country that can end up with more medals than all other countries of similar or less population is doing really well. On that basis GB, Australia and indeed the US and China can all be proud.

  4. no one
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    yep i worked in a few "cricket playing countries" which is a new way of looking at the world i hadnt thought of

    great affection for the people of places like new zealand, and how much closer in the heart to them we are than the folk living a few miles away in calais, not politically correct but true

    makes me very sad to see the visa nonsense we impose on these good folk when the ever expanding europe allows ever more people to enter freely

    the peoples map of the world is so very different to the one politicians draw

    rock stars and their roadies also have a different slant on the world, having been in so many countries on tour, i always favour their view of places over the press and politicians, cos they base their findings on evidence and first hand experience

  5. David Eyles
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Yes, it's wonderful that we have done so well for a change. Naturally, I am pleased that, so far, we are beating the Australians but only because it shows that we are getting things right with encouragement, training and facilities – something which the Aussies have been so good at for so long.

    But I have to say that my pleasure, and indeed astonishment, is that we are (at the time of writing) also beating Russia and a unified Germany. From a small boy, watching the Olympics in black and white, I have grown used to the dominance of the USSR and Soviet Bloc countries such as GDR beating us. West Germany always used to beat us as well.

    But there is clearly room for improvement. I am sure that our atheletics could be improved after a lot more work. But I have no idea how we are doing in shooting sports, because they are never reported in the mainstream media. I suspect that so-called minority sports have been underfunded and under encouraged for politically correct reasons. It is surely time to shake this up, starting with law changes in firearms.

  6. Neil Craig
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Apart from a generalised "as many as possible" I take considerable satisfaction from the fact that Britain & Australia (lets just call it the Commonwealth) are outpreforming the USA, who, along with the USSR, used to monopolise it.

    In general I feel a lot more commonality with the english speaking Commonwealth (& at a push America) than with the EU & wish we put as much effort into making it a real entity as we have for the EU.

    Hoorah for Empire Free Trade.

  7. "East Anglian T
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    The best Olympian league table looks at the winning medals by Head of State. This has Her Majesty The Queen at the top ahead of Hu Jintau (China) and George Bush.

    If the EU was a country (Heaven Forbid!) it would win the medal table but could you ever imagine an athlete eagerly seeking from the crowd an EU flag to hold above their heads in the manner that athletes proudly parade their national flags?

  8. adam
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Beating Australia is great, the competition only is a friendly one and they always seem to beat us.

    I prefer the European nations, even the bad ones, over the EU.
    If they joined together and competed as the EU then i would delight in seeing us beat them.

  9. Derek
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Exactly what I have been thinking. There is something very reassuring about finding out that in this country we have all these great people we've never heard of who have been quietly working away climbing to the top of their discipline and making their dreams actually come true.

    I was very pleased when, early on, a female cyclist was so ecstatic at winning she was unable to respond to the BBC commentators banal questions. No ready prepared statement carefully honed by a dozen PRs and spinmeisters.

    It is all such an antidote to the past decade of vacuous reality star celebrity drivel. It's also in stark contrast to a government that believes all that is necessary is to deceive people into believing everything is wonderful is to constantly tell them it is so, whilst citing endless 'tractor production' statistics. They don't quite seem to arrived at the moment of revelation that this doesn't work, but this coming. Along with the realisation that you simply cannot make everyone a winner by eradicating losers.

    One thing I can't stand is this constant 'Team GB' nonsense. As the games have progressed it has become increasingly obvious that they represent Great Britain, and it is a unique country that was, and despite everything, still is well named.

  10. William B.
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    So many euphemisms in the comments today … come on chaps, admit it, we all love giving the French a good stuffing.

  11. Ed Thomas
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    France – Mwahahahahaha mwahahahahahha.

  12. mikestallard
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I am teaching French teenagers at the moment. The Olympics are never mentioned, but they are extraordinarily keen to learn English which they can clearly see is the way into world politics, the internet and the "international community.
    And, yes, I like them too!

    Another thought: The Olympics have been hijacked by an awful lot of nasty governments. I am sure we are all aware of the Nazi Olympics.
    But there were the ghastly Communist athletes who would have been funny – the bearded woman – if they had not been so threatening and, yes, terrifying, at the time.
    China, of course, we are told, is totally different because it has changed.

    Fascinating to see the Socialist Brown trying, desperately to muscle in here.

  13. Manj
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    So being Eurosceptic makes you dislike European nations? That's a bit … pathetic

    Reply: Not European nations, but European governments who seek to boss us into submission to their federalist bureaucracy.

  14. Derek (2)
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    For some reason known to them the BBC tell us when a winner is Welsh or Scottish but fail to identify English winners, preferring to call English winners British. Perhaps the BBC would like to publish a medal table telling us how many medals have been won by England,Wales Scotland and N.Ireland?
    I was once proud to represent Great Britain in the swimming pool. Now I really don't care whether British competitors win or not. It's only the English ones I'm interested in.
    In 2010 at the Commonwealth Games the home nations will compete individually. It's about time we did the same in the Olympics.

    However, having said that, it is good to beat the Aussies.

    • Riddiford of England
      Posted August 23, 2008 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      As it happens I can help a little.

      England 40 comps 42 medals
      Wales 3 comps 3 medals
      NI 0 comps 0 medals
      Scot 1 person 3 medals

      Well done England and the others tried hard !

      The BBc website has a medal map with a bio of each winner.
      The individual bios as it happens mention the nationality of only 4 of the above… !

      Your observation on Nation referencing is quite right and is a deliberate BBC policy to “promote social cohesion ” , raise “cultural awareness” and observe “ethnic neutrality”.

      These dictats are in compliance the normal EU directives you wil be pleased to read.

  15. Ian H
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I echo William B's sentiment.
    As long as we trounce the (French – ed),i don't mind!

  16. Freeborn John
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    The British identity is long-established but as comments on this blog indicate is fragile. Future governments must do more to reinforce it, particularly in Scotland. The funding of British athletes who go on to success at the Olympics is one subtle means by which the British state can underpin the British national identity upon which the legitimacy (and therefore the long-term survival) of the British parliament ultimately depends. The formation of a British football team to compete in the World Cup (which the Welsh have not qualified for in many decades and the Scottish very rarely) would be another, and perhaps a GB team (rather than the British Lions) in Rugby. Shared sporting success would be more effective against the SNP than any amount of campaigning, especially if a GB team could pull off a very major achievement such as winning the World Cup.

    Just as GB competes in the Olympic, but separate English, Welsh, etc. teams in the Commonwealth games, it might be that that a GB football team would only compete in the World Cup with Scotland, Wales etc. still trying for the European Cup (which they have not qualified for recently).

    • adam
      Posted August 22, 2008 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

      More to reinforce it? If only.
      You mean less to destroy it.

  17. Derek (2)
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Freeborn John. I'm afraid you've missed the bus. It is inevitable that the home nations will continue to pull apart. More powers are to be given to the Scottish Parliament/Welsh Assembly. A policy supported by all parties including the Tories!
    The SNP is on the up.

    Most English people want an English Parliament.
    Etc. etc.

    Its ony natural that sport will follow.

    The IOC want Britain to field a British soccer team at the 2012 games but Scotland Wales and N.Ireland refuse to take part. Any British team will be made up of English players! That's clearly nonsense and I hope the FA will see sense and refuse to participate. In any case if Britain did enter a team the selection process would be a nightmare.

  18. William B.
    Posted August 27, 2008 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Mr Derek said:
    "The IOC want Britain to field a British soccer team at the 2012 games but Scotland Wales and N.Ireland refuse to take part. Any British team will be made up of English players! That’s clearly nonsense and I hope the FA will see sense and refuse to participate. In any case if Britain did enter a team the selection process would be a nightmare."

    It wouldn't matter really, whatever team we have will lose on penalties in the quarter finals.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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