Success in life is earned, not given. What you achieve depends upon your innate ability, effort and industry, dedication and desire to succeed These statements should be inalienable truths, and yet sadly all too often they are not. For many, the fascination of the Olympic Games is that it provides precisely such a level playing feel. With one rags-to-riches, homelessness-to-gold triumphant story after another, all that matters at the most basic level is to run faster, jump higher, throw further or pedal more furiously than the rest. An athlete who does not dedicate their life to their sport does not deserve and will not receive a gold medal.
On a national level, Team GB – through Lottery funding and dedication – achieved the second-best results of any country on the planet. Our 1% of the world’s population achieved 9% of the world’s gold medals. Success was earned not just through the hard work of our athletes, but the ability to build a team around them. The European Parliament’s Twitter account, however, simply added up the individual medals for each of the EU’s 28 countries and made the fantastical claim that the European Union had the best results on earth. Yes, if you add up 28 countries’ results they beat any single country; it’s as unsurprising as the Pope’s Catholicism or what bears get up to in the woods. Whilst Team GB worked for their achievement, Team European Union Spin attempted to leach off someone else’s.
Mo Farah’s double Olympic triumph was again iconic. Having fallen to the floor in the 10,000 metres, it never seemed in any doubt to me that once he’d got up he would win the race. His backstory is pretty impressive too: coming to the UK at the age of 8 after a tumultuous time in Somalia, he barely spoke a word of English. Some vile bigots took to Twitter to condemn UKIP supporters for cheering on Mo Farah. As though UKIP were an anti-migrant party, when indeed Nigel Farage was the first leader of a major political party to call for the UK to take some refugees from Syria!
Here’s the challenge though: the values that we reflect as a nation in the Olympic Games are the values which we should embody on a daily basis. Those same values should underpin our education system, expecting our children to learn, to overcome adversity rather than retreat into ‘safe spaces’ if something causes the merest scintilla of offence We should be training the next generation of leaders not a generation of precious snowflakes, and it’s no wonder that we have astronomically high levels of depression and anxiety amongst teenagers when we create unrealistic expectations of how protected they should be, and how easy life ought to be: real life doesn’t match up. As inspiration, we need look no further than the forthcoming Paralympic Games where we will see those who do not allow adversity, disability, or often personal tragedy, to get in the way of that determination which is the very spirit embodied by the ancient Greeks so long ago.
As a nation we should strive for excellence in everything that we achieve. When it comes to immigration, people shouldn’t get a free pass to come here just because they happen to hold a passport from any of 27 other EU countries; those who we allow to come to the UK should be those who will strive to make our country a better place. My wife and I were sitting at dinner with an American couple last week. The lady had come from Canada originally, but was proud to be American. She didn’t describe herself as Canadian-American or anything else; she had become American through choice and would always see herself as American. Irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, skin colour or anything else, that’s what we should expect from those who come to live and work in the UK too. We should celebrate success, praise the self-made entrepreneur who makes millions and generates jobs and tax revenue for the Exchequer – not be envious of their wealth. We should celebrate our scientists as much as our athletes, but neither should we stigmatise a vocational route: after all, we’re a region of manufacturers, a region which builds things and a region which should be the engine-room of the British economy.
The day after the Olympics had finished, I headed off to a town called Rendsburg. I play a board game called Stratego. Not having picked up a board for a year, I rushed across Germany to play for the Great Britain team at World Team Championships. The team was short of players and wouldn’t have been able to compete if I didn’t make it, so I thought I’d give it my best shot. Sadly we didn’t manage to come away with a medal, but my personal consolation was getting my best ever result, a draw against a two-time World Champion.
If we want to get a medal next year in Greece, I’d best take my own advice and put some work in!