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Politics and sport mix in my inbox

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John Beattie | 16:38 UK time, Monday, 6 August 2012

That was one of the best weekends of my life. I'll get to that in a second.

My in box gets some strange emails. For the last two weeks it's been getting mass emails with quotes from politicians congratulating athletes on their success.

Which is very strange.

I think the success of the athletes reflects on the volunteers, families, support systems, and the people whose tax helps pay for them, rather than politicians.

The London 2012 Olympics are hugely significant in political terms admittedly.

Olympic gold medallist Andy Murray

I'm down here in London, and I detect a "happiness", for want of a better word, brought on by the event, the successes, and the golden colour of the coverage.

The effect of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games on Scotland will be momentous.

But politicians don't actually own the money that's spent.

It's our money.

It's the money we've given over by way of tax both personal and corporate, it's the lottery tickets we've bought, community charge, business rates, parking fines and all the other ways we pool our money, that have actually given these team GB athletes a chance to win.

And the reason major companies can afford to sponsor these games is because we buy their products.

It's wonderful, it's magical, but it wasn't made by politicians.

Anyway, yesterday was extraordinary. BBC Scotland's Olympics Correspondent Kheredine Idessane and I were dispatched to Wimbledon with news ringing in our ears that we were to cover the tennis.

We sweated our way onto a subway, grabbed a train, got soaked outside Wimbledon train station, and, because the bus queue was more than a hundred metres long, jumped in a taxi with a big sign saying "£2.50 per person to Wimbledon stadium!"

Three English folks were inside. We smiled, and they saw our media passes. "Ah, BBC Scotland..." said the friendly old bloke to my right.

We admitted to the fact. "But you're not supporting Andy Murray are you? He swears too much."

We both expressed surprise that he and his family weren't supporting Team GB, but, hey, it's personal choice.

And, yet again, it was obvious that the Olympics, in terms of the fans, have none of the aggression that haunts other sports.

This is a friendly coming together of countries.

Lugging boxes full of broadcasting kit we wandered through yet more x-ray machines, enjoyed a searching frisk or two, passed within two feet of Roger Federer (lovely skin) who was loping out on his way to warm up, climbed the steps to the commentary positions, plugged up, watched Andy Murray take a commanding lead when the game got underway, and then heard BBC Radio Scotland Richard Gordon link to us from the football.

Kheredine and I winked at each other.

Out came the notes, Kheredine, a former 800 metre athlete, shifted into second gear and he commentated and I summarised.

"Sounds fine, keep going," came word from the producer in Glasgow.

The day will live with me for ever.

We finished the commentary, Kheredine went to the satellite truck to send some TV pictures to Scotland with cameraman Alan.

And Andy Murray stayed behind to be interviewed by BBC Scotland.

I pinched myself again and again as Kheredine and I smiled on the bus leaving Wimbledon.

Did we really commentate on a gold medal, by a Scotsman, at Wimbledon?

Days fly past here. By now it was after eight o'clock at night. Usain Bolt was racing at ten to ten.

We decided to take a risk and head for the Olympic stadium. An hour and twenty minutes later I felt as though I'd been abducted by aliens.

Huge towers of futuristic floodlights had turned night time, and the inside of the biggest space ship in the universe, into daylight and the build up to the biggest race of the Olympics.

Looking around I noticed people struggling to take it in.

The inside of the Olympic stadium is modern, loud, shiny, metallic, glamorous, high-tech, welcoming, bathed in light, massive, and superbly fit for purpose.

Cameraman Alan and I joined our colleagues from BBC Wales on the first tier of broadcast places right in line with the finish.

Usain Bolt played up for the cameras, and then blasted down the track.

People around me jumped up and down. The volume was oppressive but reassuring at the same time.

To be that loud it had to be very, very important.
And I've been trying all morning to analyse it. What did we all feel in the stadium? Why did people hold their heads, smile, shoot eyebrows skyward, and applaud and shout?

The word, I think, is joy.

The BBC has footage of Colin Jackson, the former hurdler, losing the plot in the studio talking of "What's his name....the Big Man."

Ah, the beauty of athletics analysis.

Early indications are that the TV audience was massive. People were captivated.

Seeing men and women compete at their best is magical whether it's at Wimbledon, the Olympic stadium, or even at Scotstoun stadium in Glasgow.

One of the most important effects of these massive sporting events is, yes, political.

But the effect isn't created by politicians. It is made and paid for by people.

Please, no more emails .


  • Comment number 1.

    I agree generally, but not entirely with John Beattie. Politicians make decisions that affect sport. The introduction of The National Lottery by John Major's government and the related increase in sports funding has made a significant difference. Just look at the the medal tables for the last few Olympics and for those prior to lottery funding. I'm not in any way demeaning the effort or sacrifice of our athletes, but the extra funding has allowed many of them to train full time and has, albeit slowly, improved facilities

  • Comment number 2.

    True in the fact that the money comes from us John but the way that money is distributed is down to the politicians. Governments invoke the policies and then put the funds forward. As the comment above states just look at the benefit that's been felt from lottery funding.
    Unfortunately what I am dreading is any particular athlete's achievements or sports in general being used by politicians to push forward their own agenda and point scoring which unfortunately I can see as inevitable in 2014 and the SNP.
    I'd much prefer the politicians to work on getting sports (all not just football or rugby) back into the schools and readily available for anyone that wants to get involved in them. Rather than try and use the top results as a means of political point scoring or manoeuvring

  • Comment number 3.

    Alex Salmond must be loving the Olympics, its the best advert for Scottish Nationalism ever, and sends a strong message to the greedy corporate sponsors, who only thrive on profit and capitalism.

  • Comment number 4.


    normally love your posts but this one is quite simply naive at best. Anyone who thinks that Politicians and Politics do not influence on Olympic success either simply doesn't understand how the business of sport is run or has been living on a different planet for the last 60 years. Countries such as the old East Germany or China used sport as a way of showing their power for many years but the most interesting example (and a warning to the UK for the future comes from Australia). The government pumped millions in to making sure that not only the country was ready for the Sydney olympics but also their athletes as well and it is no coincedence that they came 3rd on the medal table at their home event. From 2001 the central investment in sport decreased and across the last 12 years the performances have mirrored the the extent that now their Tasman neighbours are poking fun at them on an hourly basis. Let the politicians (and the rest of the country) bask in the glory of a team performing well and use it as a force for positive change ...the truth is that the more people that support our success, the more that will be willing to invest in it for the future and make sure that we don't follow the Australian's short sighted approach.

  • Comment number 5.

    # 2 "………………..I can see as inevitable in 2014 and the SNP."

    And wall to wall coverage by bbc of the olympics and jubilee has not been done with the explicit intent of influencing Scots towards maintaining union?
    Do you not find it strange that the bbc and other uk media bend over backwards to proclaim Andy Murray or Chris Hoy as british.

    Would I be correct in assuming that you find it acceptable for leading Scottish athletes and any other successful Scots to be branded as british, yet you find it unacceptable and distasteful for the same people to be recognised solely as Scottish?

    The debacle caused by the uk Olympic authorities of the gb football team is a good example of the contempt uk authorities have for Scottish sport. This contempt is further evidenced by the on air comments of bbc Olympic commentators when referring to the SFA declining to join a gb team. These comments are uttered crassly without the opportunity to reply.

    For a nation of our size, Scotland will never conquer the sporting world. However, when Scotland does produce a successful world class talent, can we not be allowed to celebrate that talent for being Scottish rather than have our celebrations diluted by our larger neighbour wishing to use that success as a political lever for their own ends?

    P.S. bbc is not a benign or impartial broadcaster, it is a state broadcaster!

    C McK

  • Comment number 6.

    Ramalamadingdong and everyone else here. At the moment Scottish medals are 10, total medal winners in Team GB 80. The team has gone up in size from 311 to 524 from Beijing.. John Major, you are right, took one look at Atlanta and said "Never again!"

    Caledonian exile - The trouble with Scottish politicians wanting to be associated with Scottish medal successes is that none of the Scottish medal winners live in Scotland. And direct funding of sport by government in Scotland is one tenth of the money pumped into sport by local authorities.

    The politicians have minimal impact.

  • Comment number 7.


  • Comment number 8.

    John - no argument intended but I thought Chris Hoy lived in Edinburgh and Kathleen Grainger lived in Stirling. If all our medal winners live out of Scotland that raises other questions that need to be answered. I notice that many Westminster politicians want to be associated with GB successes regardless of where the competitor is from! That's OK - isn't it this is supposed to be inclusive - or am I wrong as many of the media commentators don't seem to know either!

  • Comment number 9.

    #5 - Yes quite, the sole purpose of the coverage of the BBC of the jubilee & Olympics is to influence 5 million to be in favor of the union. I think the 'explicit' focus of it is to firmly enjoy the fact that collectively we are doing incredibly well for a nation of the size of the UK.

    Why would I feel it acceptable or otherwise for Athletes such as Chris Hoy to be referred to as British or Scottish? As they are both it's not really branding them one way or the other. They may be born in Scotland but where do these athletes live and train for example? The Olympics has been a team effort athletes from Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland & England all pulling together.

    The point I am making about the SNP pull for their own agenda is quite frankly the fact that they will have had nothing to do with the outcome of those games in 2014. The training and investment was not made by them. However, they're not alone in this I will be fully expecting the Conservatives to use the smokescreen as well to cover many other issues in the near future.

    Do not misconstrue me though, there is nothing wrong in being proud of Scottish athletes, but to consider that only we have the right to do so is incredibly myopic. Everyone in the UK can feel proud of the achievements of Murray, Hoy, and all the others just as much as we in Scotland can feel proud of the achievements of the others such as Ennis, Rutherford, Farah and all the others.

    The football team issue is a farce though but more for the fact that it's in as an Olympic sport. Not one of those players taking part in it would view an Olympic gold as the pinnacle of their career and would trade one in a heartbeat for a Champions League, Euro or WC winners medal.

  • Comment number 10.

    Not sole intent, but the wall to wall coverage and the jingoistic nature of the coverage are unsightly to say the least. I find the comments of bbc personnel towards Australia and France particularly obtuse. Scotland has never had a malevolent sporting rivalry with these countries, but subsumed into the uk, one suddenly appears.

    So athletes who train or live in US who are not US citizens should become US citizens, by your rationale? I would encourage athletes of any nation who could make a contribution to Scottish life to train and live in Scotland, yet represent their home nation.

    I don’t believe the SNP can take credit for the outcome of the games in 2014, but they can take credit for raising pride and consciousness of our nation. Putting Scotland first is central to the SNP agenda, whereas the unionist agenda is London and UK first with Scotland playing second fiddle.

    Is it myopic or parochial to want to see your own country compete at an olympics? This to me seems the same level of argument deployed by the daily mail, et al when they object to the Scottish Government legislating that Scottish history should be taught in Scotland.

    We agree that the gb football issue is a farce, but for different reasons.

    Politics and sport are inseparable, I hope the SNP exact the political benefit from 2014 that unionist’s anticipate will benefit them in 2012.

    C McK

  • Comment number 11.

    Taimoshan - Sir Chris Hoy lives in Manchester where they have the national cycling set up, Katherine Grainger lives and trains in London

    Midas_child - I'm in the middle of it and there is no agenda

    Colin - yes, but is it right?

  • Comment number 12.

    @11 John - never meant to infer that there was any agenda one way or otherwise

    @10 C McK - Hard to fault a bias toward the British team from an organisation called the British Broadcasting Corporation aimed in the majority toward British citizens. Given the source and the target audience think it can justly accounted for.

    Can't really say anything in response to the comments you refer to without knowing what exactly they are but the only ones I know of were in response to initial comments regarding GB teams/athletes in the rowing and cycling. Yet if you remove the Team GB elements, they've also referenced the comments made between the US and Chinese in the swimming as well.

  • Comment number 13.

    John Beattie - do athletes from any other part of Britain train in Scotland - if so what is your point?

  • Comment number 14.

    "And direct funding of sport by government in Scotland is one tenth of the money pumped into sport by local authorities." You feel happy to criticise the Scottish Government, with 1/10 of the income of the UK and no control over massive Olympic spending including training facilities, none, incidentally, if I'm right, created in Scotland but 1/10 paid for with Scottish taxes. In a Guardian article, the Olympics are in fact seen as a triumph for regionalism (however you interpret that - there it mentioned the rising profile of Yorkshire). As another commentator said, the SNP government's contribution in raising Scotland's profile and morale is a good step on the way to boosting achievement across the board. Sadly too many Scots, like some of the commentators here, still insist on seeing the bottle half empty when it comes to Scotland when they could so easily see it half full. Now if you're an SNP supporter, you may even have a vision of 2 bottles, both pretty healthily full and no need to squabble about who gets the credit!

  • Comment number 15.

    5.McKay "when Scotland does produce a successful world class talent" "bending over backwards to claim they are British" "debacle caused by the uk (sic) Olympics over the SFA / GB football issue". =====================================================My my, you are a nasty little Nat aren't you?! Your skewed brand of Scotland and the UK is, unfortunately for you, a minority one where all you and the SNP offer is division, paranoia, victimhood and the blame culture. Guess what, AM & CH are British and Scottish, competing for Team GB and doing so with pride. The SFA did SFA to participate in the GB team despite assurances by football's governing bodies.

    I look forward to 2014 where the majority of Scots will put this divisive separatist referendum on the rocks and to hear no more of the moaning whining tales of woe and victimhood.


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