Olympic success; a better Britain?

At the moment I quite like being British.  I don’t always feel that way, but as we win ever increasing number of medals at the Olympics, it seems to be having an impact on my feelings towards the country I live in.  Don’t worry; this is not about to be a monologue on how wonderful it is to live on this small island.  But it got me thinking, if it affects me in this way, who else might it be affecting, and what effect might this have on the country, and the VCS within it?

Recent trends have emphasised the increasing diversity of British society.  The result of this has been that whilst people generally claim that they view diversity as positive, many people have become disconnected, communities disengaged, and negative feelings towards immigrants and the communities they live in have increased (see also: Britishness and citizenship; Identity politics;  Policies on multiculturalism and social cohesion).  As a result, much of VCS and government policy has concentrated on how to create cohesion within these disparate communities.  So can we use events such as the Olympics to invoke national pride, and a sense of belonging, and thereby achieve these aims? 

Sport has always offered an opportunity for people to come together and forget about the barriers they might otherwise see between themselves.  Think of the legendary Christmas day football match that took place on the Western front during World War I, or look today at the number of athletes competing for ‘their’ country, who were actually born elsewhere (Britain for example has Laura Bechtolsheimer, born in Germany, Michael Bingham born in the USA, and Andrew Lemoncello, born in Japan).  It is a way to rise above social and economic boundaries, overcome exclusion, and can enable people to achieve success in otherwise disabling conditions.

The medals in Beijing could potentially result in many positive outcomes.  People are generally attracted to success, so continual achievement in the Olympics could encourage individuals and communities within Britain to want to belong, and could thereby create (or at the very least encourage) more cohesive communities (especially where people see others from within their own community competing, and winning, for Britain).  When people are proud they are often work harder to keep things that way, so an increased national pride could potentially encourage more active citizens and communities.  Additionally, attitudes towards immigrants and ethnicity could be improved when people see competitors of varying backgrounds compete and win, and individual aspirations promoted as people see those never heard of become champions.

The current results reflect the funding given to sporting foundations over the past few years.  The amount of lottery and government funding dispersed by Sport England has been felt to be excessive by some (£300m from the treasury and £2bn from the lottery), but positive results can now be seen and felt throughout the country.  Not only has it led to success in Beijing, but investing in grassroots sports organisations allows the sector to reach out and engage successfully with people where there might be no other means, for instance, football clubs in South London have been working with socially excluded young people with good results, martial arts claim to help people with autism and Asperger syndrome engage in the world.

The results in China also have implications for 2012.  The amount of money being spent on the preparations for this has been widely criticised.  But if the result is an improvement in society, would people feel the same?  It seems unlikely.  And when you see people whose lives have been turned around by sport (for example Michael Phelps), it also highlights how the Olympics, and sport in general, is a very good tool for challenging social exclusion, and promoting social regeneration.  As these are areas that much of the sector works in, surely this is a positive thing?

Maybe I am getting carried away in the excitement of success. But to me, the Olympics has positive implications not only for the sector, but also for Britain in general, and surely this can only be a good thing?

Last updated at 14:20 Mon 21/Sep/09.
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