Olympic success costs… so let’s spend elsewhere too

AS the Rio Olympics end, save for the Paralympics, here are a few thoughts on medals, money and the BBC.

The continuing lesson of this Olympics has been that to get results you have to spend money. Reaching second place in the medal table for the first time in 108 years didn’t just happen: it cost a lot of dedication, determination and skill – and money. It has been estimated that each of Team GB’s 67 medals won in Brazil cost an average of £4,096,500 each. Is that a lot? It certainly sounds extravagant, but if that’s what it costs, then that is what you have to pay to succeed.

For a country prepared to put untold billions into renewing Trident, HS2 and doing potentially dodgy nuclear deals with China and France – that last one is on hold for now – spending money on turning our athletes into winners doesn’t seem such a bad venture.

Some will resent the money at a time of austerity, and the idea of the Olympics being an amateur affair has long been left behind, but winning at sport is generally the idea. And if you want to win, you have to pay up front.

The investment in the Olympics overturns the idea that you can “do more with less” or other tight-arsed monetary clichés that are banded about when governments are cutting everything in sight.

If investing in Olympic sport can pay off, as it clearly has, thanks to the Lottery and the Treasury, then why is it all right to cut the money for, say, arts investment or to close libraries? What’s more, if supporting athletes works so well, how about supporting actors, writers or painters; how about supporting libraries or making sure that art galleries and museums are free (a lesson here for York)?

Britain’s success in the Olympics shows that you have to take these things seriously: money talks, money shouts. All those golden glory headlines in this morning’s newspapers cost many millions, not that most people will resent footing that particular bill.

Amid all the excitable chatter, there is talk of handing out more honours to our athletes. The Times reports this morning that Britain’s Olympic chiefs have asked the prime minister to relax the quota on sporting honours so that “every gold medal winner and key support staff are recognised for their achievements”. This seems strange in a sense: surely the gold medals should be honour enough. Then again, Mo Farah is generally reckoned to be a dead cert for a knighthood, and that seems fair as it would reward long effort in a glorious career rather than success at one Games.

The BBC came in for some criticism over its Olympics coverage, with John Inverdale, the patron saint of sporting gaffes, putting in his usual medal-denting efforts. He won a brass bong for telling Andy Murray that he was the “first person ever to win two Olympic tennis medals”, only for the Scot to riposte with: “I think Venus and Serena [Williams] have won about four each…”

Inverdale has form for the sexist slight, infamously telling Radio 5 listeners after Marion Bartoli’s victory at Wimbledon in 2013: “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little ‘You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrapping and fight’.”

I guess with presenters you end up liking some more than others. For my licence fee pound, retired gymnast Beth Tweddle represented poor Olympics value: knowing your stuff doesn’t automatically make you a good broadcaster, and being dull is a TV sin however talented you were.

Still, much of the nit-picking is unfair in that it overlooks the amazing technical achievements the BBC pulls off in covering the Olympics, and camerawork that just gets better every time. Many of the shots this year were stunning.

And can you imagine what the Olympics would be like if ITV had a turn? We’d be lucky to win a broadcasting bronze then.

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