The Olympic trials are the most important and exciting domestic competition and the British swimming trials have just finished, throwing up half a dozen medal hopes for Tokyo this summer. Some of the stars will be heading down to Mallorca for a warm weather camp in the near future and we can’t wait to welcome them back and watch them train.
Rebecca Adlington came before Beijing 2008, Michael Jamieson came in the build-up to London 2012 where he won silver, and Siobhan Marie O’Connor was a regular at the BEST Centre before her silver in Rio 2016.
Friday was St George’s Day, which is a day that resonates in our little corner of the island in Colonia Sant Jordi. The thought of St George slaying the dragon can be interpreted as any triumph of good over evil, or, less dramatically, overcoming the struggle in pursuit of something that is important to us.
This is a good characterisation of what sport is all about, which is why my heart sank this week with the news that esports are back in the conversation at the Olympics as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are once again making a bid to attract the attention of the youth of the world.
Having observed one 15-year-old boy and his relationship to video games, you have to wonder whether this is really what the IOC should be doing. He may not be a representative sample but he spends endless hours shouting, banging the table in anger and frustration and complaining bitterly when we tell him it’s 10pm and time to stop now. He assures us he enjoys it, despite all appearances that it is making him thoroughly miserable.
There is a slightly depressing inevitability about the IOC trying to make themselves look cool by offering esports, in the same way that they looked at the X Games and cherry-picked some of the snowboarding, BMX biking and skateboarding events to glam-up the Olympic programme.
Sport is about the pursuit of excellence, the mastery of a skill, the grunt of hard work and about delayed gratification. You don’t go up to Valldemossa, sit down at Chopin’s piano and start playing nocturnes. Nor do you win Olympic gold, or play like Messi or Ronaldo without years of very hard work. And of course that’s the beauty of sport. The tears of joy are born from the years of pain and struggle.
Young people are far less interested in watching sport now when compared with previous generations. They prefer the immediate hit of highlights rather than watching games. They want instant gratification and this is the biggest worry in front of sports coaches;
the idea that success comes from hard work and that there will be struggles and moreover, that’s the point. When we are put in difficult situations and we overcome those challenges, we are more able to cope with the real world when the going gets tough and life gets hard. In many ways this is the calling card of the Olympian and the values the IOC represents.
But sport has a darker side too. This pursuit of excellence sometimes causes terrible harm. We all know of the sexual and physical abuse of some coaches. Making far fewer headlines but nevertheless still part of the DNA of sport, and something I have witnessed even at the county and regional level is a list of issues that affect young athletes including negative body image or self-worth, girls with irregular or no periods, eating disorders, injury and the long-term consequences of not being good enough. Is this what sport does to its youth?
Sport also makes us angry, frustrated and sometimes miserable. The sheer drudgery of swim training at 6am, kilometre after painful kilometre, the gut-wrenching effort of 200m sprints on the track, getting beaten week after week by stronger teams or the simple unfairness of being smaller than the next person, are all challenges that require courage to overcome.
And while sport does do all these things to its athletes, sometimes, it also has solutions to all these issues for a young person willing to accept the challenge and see the long term payoff.
But why go through all that if you can get angy and frustrated and blame your parents for a bad network connection when you lose, all from the comfort of your own home?