Throughout our holiday, reports from Rio rippled in — last thing at night, first thing in the morning — a regular golden swoosh of heartwarming news. We are only an averagely sporty family, but these Olympics made us all happier. Across the media, there’s been a mild controversy about whether the remarkable achievements of Team GB say anything bigger about Britain — ‘We always punch above our weight’ — or very little; ‘Sport is sport and only sport, and that’s why we like it.’ But of course there are wider lessons.
First, there was real, big long-term investment provided by the National Lottery and the foresight of Sir John Major. Second, the unsentimental and even ‘unfair’ way this money was channelled by Sport UK. Then, as every gold winner has pointed out in post-event interviews, a huge amount of tight, disciplined teamwork engaged everyone from parents to sports scientists, groundsmen and cleaners. Finally, of course, came the talent and graft of the athletes.
As we wrestle with our post-Brexit destiny, that seems a near-perfect national ideal. Imagine a Britain which had seriously invested for the long term, focusing only on industries and technologies where we were likely to be world-class; and where ‘company’ was used in the old sense of being a tight, committed team of friends and allies working together for a goal many years in the future. It would be a Britain shorn of short-term political lurches in funding and direction, whose corporate leaders had a lively sense of how much they owed to their teams and didn’t treat themselves as Medici princelings. It would be a Britain which didn’t struggle doggedly with the things we don’t do very well, but which focused on we’re good at.
Rio 2016 has been a massive national success. To treat it as a happy summer glow would be a woeful waste of inspiration. (Though apparently we are investing less now in community sport: this may make the glow rather less golden in 15 or 20 years’ time.)
This is an extract from Andrew Marr’s diary. The full article can be found here.