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Real respect for sport can be Olympic legacy

Posted on 4 September 2009 | 9:09am

In Paris for a TV programme, I wake up, get ready to go for a run, then take a look at the pouring rain and decide the hotel gym treadmill might be a better idea. (Cue my favourite treadmill story, about the woman in Texas who tried to recruit me to the George W Bush email prayer group while I was running on  one – running on a treadmill, that is, not a woman in Texas).

The Parisian treadmill was not working, so I braved the rain. As often happens, the irritation evaporated quickly and something better than a treadmill jog emerged.

Looking for the Bois de Boulgone, I came across the Parc des Princes, scene of one of the greatest sporting nights of my life when Scotland beat France there thanks to a wondergoal from James MacFadden. I like stadia anyway so idled away a while just running round the perimeter of what used to be the national stadium and is still home to Paris St Germain.

I was running slowly enough – not by choice I’m afraid – to enjoy the exhibition of photographs all around the outside of the stadium. They were effectively a celebration of the stadium, and of sport.

Nearby was also a smaller rugby stadium, home to Stade Francais, so I had a little peek around that. By now I had lost my bearings for the Bois de Boulogne but out of nowhere came a 3-lane, 200-metre all-weather running track attached to Stade Francais, next to a gym and volleyball court. So I pottered round there for a while.

What struck me was not a contrast with London in terms of facilities – we have some of the best stadia in the world, and contrary to the myths peddled using misleading statistics on playing fields, the record of the government in extending sports opportunities is a good one – but the lack of litter, graffiti or vandalism. It tends to be the same at all the little ‘stades’ you see in towns and villages around France.

Of course France has its economic and social problems the same as we do, but what it says to  me is an integral respect for sport and its power to do good. And with the 2012 Olympics round the corner, I hope and believe that such attitudes, ingrained in the British for good, will be part of the legacy.

As for the TV programme, it is a new one being made for Canal Plus, called POPCOM, all about communications issues. The first one, recorded today for broadcast on Sunday, will look among other things at the different ways governments have handled swine flu, and also the vexed question of politicians and their holidays. The ‘peg’ is the criticism Barack Obama attracted for taking an expensive holiday. Cue memories of all the flak TB took down the years.

If I were Obama, I would ignore the flak and understand that everyone needs a decent break from time to time, especially those whose breaks are always constantly interrupted, as his seems to have been.

The team preparing the programme asked me if GB also got criticised over his holidays. Yes, I said, for not taking enough, and wearing his tie on day trips out. So, when the message is clearly that you can’t win whatever you do, best to do what you and your family want, Mr President.

  • Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth Hampshire



    SIR: your blog observations, 1 September, “No Worries” possibly ousting thank you out of pole position as an expression of gratitude, yes, abit of eavesdropping today confirmed your worst suspicions

    And it’s got to stop. It’s a pleasure to leave comment here, because you, sir, are a Gentleman-Blogger. Whereas other bloggers are virtually the doolally Village Idiot incarnate. Therefore, like me, know jacksh*t ‘bout nuffinck to speak of

    I sense an urgent need for a fresh approach to politeness. For example, during today, when I did say “thank you” I sounded like a Complete Wuss. Lifeless, and limp as the local vicar’s handshake, with “you’re welcome” – I fared no better

    So, no choice but to retreat, in search of fresh strategy. First, I wondered what outcome do we expect from these daily micro-interactions with folks we hardly know?

    Suppose my very life depended on making the next human being I bumped into feel “juiced, emotionally juiced, in the moment” – that means, for me to feel alive, I have to fulfil their basic psychological need for significance, to acknowledge their importance, right? Proof they matter

    But those poor devils, out there. After yet another grim, bleak, long Monday at the office, shuffling paperwork, and knowing worse follows all week till Friday, hell, we’d ALL yearn for a moment that makes us feel like someone extra-special

    For instance, say you’re a supermarket shopgirl, stuck behind a counter in front of a till, checking out barcodes on junk food all day. Yet, chances are, you mostly get ignored by the very customers you’re serving. Bewildering, that

    Nor do they need “no worries” and “thank you” expressions. Prolonged eye-contact, perhaps? Mmm, that sounds more promising, if appropriate. Paying them one genuine compliment? Now, you’re talking. Getting better

    If a muffled “thank ya” is the best gratitude we can muster, then bland, unsmiling silence in response is about as much “response” as we deserve. Didn’t going to school teach us to try that little bit harder? We were told “politeness costs nothing” – remember? Same goes for compliments, I’d guess. Ironically, when they connect, they make YOU feel better, in return

    Why’s that, then? Maybe because the special quality of such day-to-day, mini-exchanges is in direct proportion to the amount of your Self you are willing to share with other people. Sharing produces that synergy where one plus another one equals beyond a mere two. Far beyond, especially if, given time, you get exceptionally good at it

    In the anecdote you relate, (your blog, same day, 1 September), getting the bottled water you asked for, from the Lady of Primrose Hill, then mechanically blurting out a muffled “ffanks, love” may’ve made you sound like the Complete Wuss my own experiments today made me feel

    Instead of expecting something quotable and legendary, in response to my grunted mutter, I propose to give more first, then maybe get something back later. Yes, I really am that naïve. Or else it’s your own Life you ruin, if you can’t be arsed to apply wiser strategies

    So, next time you petition the Lady of Primrose Hill would she please condescend to allow a Thirsty Soul like yours, to purchase bottled water, let your mindset think more resourcefully and elegantly first

    Only then, open your mouth and speak more eloquently from there. There, you can feel the difference. Oh, unless you’re racked with self-doubt. And renowned for your self-effacing humility and nervous modesty. But hey, you aren’t. Or are you?

    Trevor Malcolm



  • Brian Hughes

    I’m sure the French structured system of local government helps. Their local councils have much more influence than do our town or parish councils.

    Whilst the Départements get on with the dull old business of local government such as emptying the bins and keeping the streetlights lit, these genuinely local councils (which have real powers and significant budgets) take care of the local environment making decisions such as what colour the geraniums in the traffic-calming planters should be and on similarly important (I’m not being completely facetious) local matters.

    I was chatting once to a deputy mayor in Provence (comme on fait) and he explained how the system helps to nip low-level antisocial behaviour in the bud. Because people feel genuinely involved in decisions about their local environment they are more likely to help in its protection.

    Our, typically British, hotch-potch of local government with its muddle of one, two and three tier arrangements seems far less engaging (but, alas, almost impossible to reform – there’s far too much inertia, “the old ways are the best”)…

  • @jlocke13

    As a French resident i look forward to hearing your words of wisdom….The French media were of course obsessed with Sarkozy’s holiday plans this summer(or more accurately they are obsessed with his wife Carla Bruni) I see GB braved the Lake District this wonderfully British..Oh and once more I find myself agreeing with you (this must stop) about family first..

  • Chas

    Did you join the prayer group? Did TB?

  • Harry G

    It helps that Paris has a socialist mayor, not blundering Boris. What I dread about the Olympics is the idea of all the work being done by Blair and then Brown’s governments, and Cameron and Johnson lording it. Please God don;t let it happen

  • Emilie Perron

    Bienvenu en France – si tot apres vos vacances… merci d’avoir reconnu l’importance de nos petites stades. Dommage que c’est Londres et non pas Paris pour 2012. J’aime votre blog et votre roman m’a beaucouip plu. Je regarderai Popcom

  • Brian Hughes

    PS I think it may help that their local councils are relatively free of party politics.

    But my perceptions may be clouded by holiday-induced rose-tinted specs and of course l’herbe de l’autre homme semble toujours plus verte

  • Thomas Rossetti

    Interesting post, Alastair!

    I’ve always been staunchly anti-socialist and convinced that places like France are doomed, but whenever I go there, I marvel at how beautiful and functional it seems to be. France does indeed have some very nice municipal stadia, just as it has beautiful towns without identikit shops. (Where in Britain can you find a town without a McDonald’s, Marks & Spencer, Pizza Express, WHSmith, Burger King etc.?)

    It think that governments in France just care less about what people think. If something is a good idea — and benefits the country — they just go ahead and do it. This is why they have a sensible nuclear programme, an incredible high-speed rail link, and managed to build their bit of the channel tunnel *years* before we did.

    I still right-wing private enterprise is the best way forward for Britain, but the situation in France certainly makes you think.

  • Thomas Rossetti

    Sorry. Meant to write, “I still think…”

  • Jane A

    Why shouldn’t people who work 24/7 under international scrutiny have a decent holiday?

    I want my decision makers rested, refreshed & happy, not exhausted and divorced.