It has been an astonishing summer of sport in Britain.
Andy Murray winning the US Open and underlining it subsequently with more gold and glory, Rory McIlroy winning the PGA, Bradley Wiggins triumph in the Tour De France. And then came the Olympics and Paralympics and a list of names a yard long, all victorious.
Like many I was astonished by the performances, the effort, the dedication and the triumphs. Years of hard work and determination, early training sessions, the many forfeits, continually pushing for small progress in the pursuit of sporting excellence. Pride of place in many trophy cabinets will go to the gold, silver and bronze medals won, and pride in mind and spirit gained for all who did not win but simply participated.
Despite the pundits of gloom’s best miserable predictions the Olympic flame shone brightly the length of the UK and lit the eyes of many, old and young alike. It was a victory for the athletes, for the organisers, for the thousands of ordinary people who volunteered, and for us, the ordinary people who watched in amazement.
The Olympic ‘ideals’ are simple:
Respect – fair play on and off the field;
Excellence – giving the best of oneself on the field of play or in life;
Friendship – how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences.
We expect and demand standards of honour and fairness from our athletes, drugs and cheating are forbidden, and the ultimate sanctions applied to those who seek to deceive and mislead. The importance of sport to our country, to our young people, the positive examples it can set, has been amply demonstrated this Olympic summer.
I listened with dismay to the unfolding news this week about Hillsborough. And the shameful admission that the reputations of the fans who suffered and died, and who survived, has been deliberately tarnished to protect the failures of the incompetent.
To the list of this summer’s sporting ‘triumphs’, I would respectfully add those who fought for justice over the death of ninety six people at Hillsborough. They have run the longest marathon, a 23 year struggle, and they have succeeded at last in crossing a line.
But theirs is a somewhat Pyrrhic victory. There was no ‘winning’ fought for here, only the right to be honourable losers. And the loss they sought to honour is the ultimate one, the lives and reputations of their families and friends. Theirs is a celebration which will see no figures stand proud on a podium, only grieving over an empty space, no gold medals in their display cabinets only the fading cherished photos of a sporting fan whose life may have been needlessly lost.
Cheating has no place in sport. But the shameful events surrounding Hillsborough are perhaps the ultimate betrayal of the sporting ideals. And those whose actions deceived us all need reminding that respect and excellence in sport, and in life, is paramount.
And there are ninety six reasons why that matters to all of us.
(Edit January 2013: new inquests announced.)