I have dared to write a couple of pieces this summer on sporting topics. Critics have said it is because I belong to the bread and circuses school of politics and wish to take people’s minds off the more important things. No serious regular reader of this blog could endorse that attack. This blog has never ducked the difficult issues of migration, house prices, EU membership or living standards, but I do not wish to write about the same things all the time.
I write about great sporting events occasionally because I like others enjoy some of them. I also write about them because they tell us something about leadership, brand promotion and the way the UK can earn its living in a very competitive world. Today I wish to examine the Wimbledon model of economic development.
England takes something which is essentially English, rooted in our past and our traditions, and turns it into a global event attracting the talent of the world. Wimbledon is a major world tennis tournament, based on English lawn tennis with grass courts, white shorts and dresses and strawberry teas, at a time when the rest of the world plays on hard surfaces with brightly coloured sponsored clothes and burgers. The centre has embraced some modern technology for line calls, with a retractable roof for all weather matches and greatly enhanced retail and restaurant facilities.
Henley is an even more dramatic example. There the technology has been frozen along with much of the dress code in the Edwardian era. The manual wooden board shows you where the racing boats have got to. There is no concession to the modern world with no large screens or tv pictures. Ladies need to wear skirts below the knee and gentlemen ties and jackets even on the days when the temperature reaches 80 degrees F. Meanwhile the standards of catering, shopping and crowd handling have been consistently improved over the years.
At Lord’s, the world home of cricket, the ancient pavilion and Long Room have been kept as the symbols of past glories. Meanwhile a stunning array of new technology allows play under lights, quick recovery of the outfield after rain, and great protection of the playing square in all weathers. Cameras and replays allow better umpiring decisions. New stands and a media centre cater for more spectators and better communications to a large worldwide tv audience.
These are things England is good at. There is spin off in sales of cricket bats, tennis balls and rowing equipment worldwide. The festival competitions bring large numbers of competitors and supporters to our country to spend on food, lodging and much else. The investment in these brands and the enhancement of the offers is an important part of modern Britain. The English green lawn is a source of inspiration for a series of summer sports that amuse the world. The green lawns of Henley stretch down to the riverside. The green lawns of Lord’s and Wimbledon are analysed the world over by sporting coaches, commentators and players . They all need to know how a ball will bounce or turn on that special grass. Each of these festivals has found that happy balance of old and new, rules and freedoms, which enable them to sell all their tickets easily at good prices and to preside over events which delight many. Tomorrow I will consider how we can stretch these brands and learn from their success.