Rio 2016 remind us of how important sport is to society
The late, great Daily Mail sport columnist Ian Wooldridge once wrote: “Sport embraces nobility and scandal, heroes and crooks, endurance and cheating, academics and morons, bravery and chicanery, artistry and ugliness. Yet there are days when sport reaches the sublime heights of unscripted theatre and draws from men and women performers resources of nerve and skill beyond human comprehension.”
In these days of 24-hour television on 100 channels, smartphones, tablets and Pokemon Go, with obesity on the rise and footballers getting paid an incredible amount as the Premier League TV deal boosts club bank balances, it’s easy to forget how much other sport exists and what it can do to inspire communities and indeed nations.
All the talk ahead of the Olympic Games in Brazil was of facilities unfinished, social unrest and political upheaval and certainly much of the organisation left much to be desired.
There were athletes cheating; athletes making false claims of being robbed; athletes refusing to shake their opponent’s hands because of their nationality; administrators arrested for allegedly selling black market tickets.
There were favourites winning medals as predicted, of course, as well. Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Michael Phelps and even Nicola Adams picked up gold because they are the best of their generation and seeing them win again underscores their position in sporting legend.
The Olympic Games only come around every four years but once again they gave us moments of inspiration, moments that spectators will never forget where even the most hardened viewer would find it difficult not to shed a tear.
Think of Laura Trott in tears as her fiancé Jason Kenny secured his sixth gold medal; Ahmad Abughaush winning Jordan’s first ever gold medal in taekwondo; the determination of Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini who won the opening 100m butterfly heat just a year after escaping her homeland in a dingy; Ukraine gymnasts dancing to Madonna; or Abbey D'Agostino and Nikki Hamblin completing the 5000m together after a collision appeared to have ended their medal dreams.
Think of athletes who had recovered from a broken back or cancer, proposals on the podium, sibling rivalry and tears of joy and despair. Once again, the Games were a reflection of the great and the good, a rich tapestry of human triumph regardless of whether it resulted in medals or not.
Touching moments do more than just boost television audiences, though.
When Fiji won their first ever medal with rugby sevens gold, it led to days of national celebration. A Neymar-inspired Brazil put the ghosts of the 2014 FIFA World Cup behind them with victory in the Olympic football final.
And of course Team GB’s heroics to finish second in the medal table has put a smile on the face of a nation torn and tormented by the Brexit vote earlier this summer, reunited a fractured nation and putting the ‘Great’ back into Britain.
The commitment to sport, started by former Prime Minister John Major and boosted by the successful bid to host the Games in 2012 has shown no signs of abating. Credit must go to UK Sport, the National Lottery and to the individual sports federations for investing the funds and the expertise in creating such success.
On a global scale, the Olympic Games allowed the world to witness moments of human achievement rather than tragedy and it’s no wonder that businesses large and small are keen to associate themselves with sport and why the benefits go beyond the playing field, the track or the pool.
It is this feel-good factor, this association with those who achieve by doing things we dream of emulating, this inspiration drawn from human magnificence that lifts us from the mire and creates halcyon moments that stand the test of time.