You don't know me!


The very fact that you’ve probably never heard of me or thousands like me, who toil away building our respective sporting clubs to varying degrees of success, says a great deal about our national sporting media and by extension, the nature of our commodity driven society. Small local sports clubs with their loyal, dedicated administrators simply do not bring in the mega bucks. Premier League Football is the only real show in town; the gladiatorial contests of our times, and virtually everything else plays second fiddle. Tennis, cricket, golf and rugby have their annual jamborees. F1 and horse racing are always there by virtue of big money backing.  Boxing gets a look in if a British boxer is involved. All other sports must content themselves with a four year outing at the Olympics if indeed they are lucky enough to be even considered an Olympic sport. Even those few sports that do capture the brief attention of the national media are only showcased at their elite level. Community football is no more successful than the pack of so called ‘minority sports’ in grabbing the media lime light. The soap opera that is the English Premier League has become as much a national obsession as the other TV soap operas. It’s not surprising but it’s damn frustrating. Even my paper of choice, The Guardian, is totally dismissive of community sports and you would think that they might have a slightly better perspective on these things. Ironically, The Times and The Telegraph are marginally better at reporting the grassroots stuff. It’s a funny old world.
 
So where was I? Yes, I was about to establish my credentials in the UK sporting world because the media moguls have taken a conspiratorial decision to relegate me and my club to total obscurity. Actually, that is complete nonsense. No such conscious decision was ever made. The unseeing hand of the ‘free’ capitalist market made the decision based on the undisputable statistics that table tennis in the UK does not put bums on seats nor does it attract major sponsors. The growing economic clout of China may have something to say about that in the future, but as it stands at present, ping pong is a non starter in terms of our media and corporate moguls. So the fact that I may well be a contender for the most successful British domestic sporting manager of all time, eclipsing even the greats, Shankly, Fergusen, Wenger et al., counts for nothing. In a managerial career roughly spanning that of Sir Alex, I helped take a two-bit, once a week, after-school ping pong club to British League Champions for no less than ten consecutive years.            

 Recognition was slim pickings indeed. Even my own Governing Body seemed reluctant to shout about the achievement, the possible motives for which are outlined in graphic detail in my self published book; ‘The Meaning of Success’. The national media totally blanked this sporting achievement, with the half exception of the Daily Express, who once ran a full page article about the club some fifteen years ago during the early days of the club’s rise to prominence.

The nearest we came to national recognition was to be awarded UK CCPR Sports Club of the Year  in 2008, but that was more in recognition of our huge community programme rather than our sporting prowess on the table. And lets be honest, who on planet Earth has heard of the CCPR? (Some arcane body loosely attached to the Football Pools and The Foundation for Sports and the Arts, grandiosely calling itself, The Central Council for Physical Recreation and acting as an umbrella organisation for the governing bodies of sport in England)

One of the motivations behind this website is to attempt to redress the balance. I have this gut feeling that there is a gigantic wall of frustration amongst grassroot sporting enthusiasts about the state of affairs within the sporting media in the UK and I would not be surprised if, given the chance, a virtual avalanche of criticism descends from many quarters.

Who can name the current squash, badminton or table tennis champion of Britain? Who knows the champion hockey, netball or baseball club in this country? Which is the most successful athletics club in the UK? Where does British martial arts fit in to the world rankings? How is the development of basketball going in this country? And so on…..

The point is clear. Grassroots, community sports adds massively to the national social fabric but  rarely registers on the national media because it does not make money for our corporate masters. The result: chronic under-funding and anonymity. Sporting Polemics has fired the first shot in what it promises  to be a long war of attrition. 2012 promised us a sporting legacy and we are going to make damn sure we get one!
 

Olympic Legacy: What a Joke!


I started day-dreaming about the legacy idea way back in the year 1999 when the then Blair Government was pontificating about a Millennium legacy. I dreamed of a National walking and cycling track that linked all the major population centres with all our wonderful national parks and our delightful seaside towns. Capital outlay would be minimal. Local job creation would be considerable and it would send all the right messages for the twenty first century; environmentally friendly, individually healthy, community orientated and spiritually uplifting.  Instead we got the vacuous Corporate Dome, corporately sponsored, individually mind numbing, community dumbing and spiritually alienating. It closed early to universal derision. To be fair, it told us exactly where the government’s priorities lay for the new century and they did not disappoint on that count: a national economy in hock to the City of London with all its speculative greed and avarice.

I still have that dream of a national walking and cycling track and it could so easily be the legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games. It could, in its initial stage be tailored to suit the London emphasis of the Games by becoming  a London Olympic path linking all the great parks and attractions within  the city with the existing Thames Path and Grand Union Canal towpaths upgraded to become its spine. Don’t worry. We don’t need to get bogged down with the details because it’s not going to happen. Instead we will get a gigantic new stadium that has no known use after 2012, a few unconnected gestures like free swimming for the pensioners. Worthy enough in itself, but hardly in the category of a lasting Olympic legacy. Many of these small scale gestures should be carried out anyway as a matter of course by the 33 London Boroughs as part of their provision for their respective residents.

No doubt there will be a half-hearted attempt to get the local communities to use the new Olympic stadia, but that will fail miserably. Those that are most in need of sports provision are those least likely to be marching into grandiose stadia. Our learned Olympic planners just don’t get it. In a city like London, if you are going to make a difference you have to start locally and I mean locally.

 As part of a real Olympic legacy every park in London could have a full time warden at the same status as the trendy new community police officers. At no capital outlay, the local recreation grounds, hitherto no go areas, come back into community use.

Every housing estate could get a new sports and community centre, well equipped and well staffed with local people and with a budget sufficient to keep it going without the need to attract outside commercially attractive customers. A central tenet of the Thatcherite/Blairite/ Brownite decades is that everything must pay its way. Everything must make a profit. That is the logic that the boroughs have been forced to adopt in their leisure centres and the end results are obvious. Those that can afford £50 per hour to use the main hall move in, while the local youngsters remain on the street.  

One of the most dispiriting features of modern London is the fear for teenagers of wandering into the wrong neighbourhood, the wrong territory. Parts of London have become akin to a war-torn, broken society, where warlords savagely protect ‘their’ territory. In London today a youngster can lose their life by accidentally crossing a gang demarcation line. For too many youngsters, street gangs have become their de-facto family and they will, partly out of fear and partly out of misguided loyalty, commit horrendous tribal brutality on those that are deemed outsiders. This is the real underbelly of what Londoners likes to pride themselves as a twenty four hour modern global metropolis. If the Olympic legacy is to have any meaning at all it must touch this reality.

And for those with the money it is increasingly the soulless fake security of their electronically gated communities. If that is community I want no part of it.

 To make any type of difference we need to start with a sober assessment of what three decades of unbridled finance capitalism has done to our  communities and it won’t be a pretty picture.  How prophetic when Thatcher declared that society does not exist. She was a true spokesperson for the times. Capitalism in its corporate, global stage has no need of society, nor for that matter of church, family and nation; the three institutions that kept us all firmly in our place. All capitalism now requires is individual, atomised, and alienated consumers. Seven billion of them to be precise. Each of us cut off from each other, each engaged in mindless consumerism to lessen the existential void, each of us living and dying alone. It isn’t that bleak yet for all of us, but give the corporate beast its head and that is where it will take us. We are even offered new cathedrals for this new age, one in West London blandly called Westfields and another, its sister, currently being constructed somewhere near the Olympic site. So we have learnt nothing from the millennium debacle. From a corporate dome devoid of human content to two giant corporate shopping malls equally devoid of meaningful human life.

And if we are really lucky we’ll get another swath of West London blighted by concrete, pollution and noise on a gigantium scale, affectionately termed the Third Heathrow Runway. Olympic legacy? Don’t make me laugh.
 

The Dialectics of Sport

The central contradiction at the heart of sport is obvious enough. It is the human dialectic; ruthlessly individualistic, tribal and competitive on the one hand, sublimely humanistic and socially co-operative on the other. Sport relentlessly reflects both poles. Today sport is nothing but a dirty commodity where clubs and athletes are bought and sold like prize cattle. Cheating, match fixing, drug taking, ruthless commercialism and of course the ugly local tribalism and national triumphalism are all the daily fare of the sporting world. Yet almost bizarrely, sport simultaneously offers the opportunity of individual personal growth, local community cohesion and on the international stage, improved global harmony. At least we like to tell ourselves it is capable of pursuing such noble goals. Mixed amongst the blind human urge to conquer, comes strange pulses of altruism and genuine internationalism. And in true dialectical fashion, even when the basest of human motives are in full flow, the end result can still somehow serve to produce something quite different: to actually enhance human welfare and, if you will forgive the lapse into metaphysics, the human spirit.

The Olympic Movement is perhaps the very best example of this dialectical interplay of opposites whereby, despite all the human machinations of individual selfishness, corporate greed, institutional corruption and national hubris, something rather better still manages to emerge. Despite every conceivable corruption, the Olympics has this almost magical power to momentarily lift us out of our tribal mentality and see, albeit briefly, humans as a single tribe with a common purpose.  

Mass self-delusion on a global scale? Probably. Yet if enough people latch on to an idea for long enough and if that idea coincides with their own material needs, that big idea can, in fact, become a material force in itself.  From local sport to global sport. From global sport to global consciousness. From global consciousness to a world without tribes. The sporting dialectic marches on!   

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Copies of ‘The Meaning of Success’ are available from This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   
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