Sunday 29 July 2012

The Olympic Opening Ceremony: Beautifully British

What did you think of the Olympic Opening Ceremony?

I loved it! It was so British - there simply isn't another country in the world who would have produced an opening ceremony such as this.

It was a confident presentation to the world of who we are. There isn't one defining British identity, there are so many different things that are uniquely British and so much of it was captured on Friday evening.

I'm sure parts of the show confused and even baffled some people around the world, but I don't care. It was like saying: 'This might not be want you want to see or expect from Britain, but this is who we are'

The Queen and James Bond make their journey to the Olympic stadium

I've watched every Olympic opening ceremony since Los Angeles in 1984. To be honest I can't remember many of them but I'll remember London's. Firstly because it took place 20 minutes from my house, but more importantly because I saw myself in the show.

I read earlier in the week that Danny Boyle wanted to produce a show that everyone in Britain would be able relate to and see something of themselves in the show.

I think he got it spot on.

The Games have only just begun, but I always knew this country would do a good job of it. Despite all the inevitable pessimism you find in this country, Britain know's how to put on a show and that's what we saw on Friday.

Four years ago in Beijing, the world was blown away by the scale of China's opening ceremony. Back in Britain we wondered how an earth we could possibly compete.

There was never any point in trying to emulate the Chinese. The 2008 Beijing Olympics was all about China announcing itself to the world. Britain and London doesn't need to do that. We just needed to be confident in ourselves and tell the world this is who we are.

One of the things I loved most about the ceremony was that unlike in Beijing, it was a laugh, their was fun and humour involved - things you don't always associate with opening ceremonies.

If you asked me to tell you what I loved the most, then it would have to be the music. The soundtrack was superb.

This county can rightly be proud of inventing Pop and Rock music and we had everything.

The Beatles, the Stones, David Bowie, Sex Pistols, The Jam, Eurythmics, Soul II Soul, Dizzie Rascal, Arctic Monkeys to name but a few. All very different but all so British in their own ways. It turned the ceremony into a house party the rest of the world was invited to.

Of course not everyone appreciated it. I read comments that some of the show was a bit random and was lost on foreign audiences. On Saturday morning, while shopping in Harrods, I heard one middle aged lady remark that the show was 'far too British'. I thought 'That's the whole point!'

And then we had some American commentators critising the left wing bias with Danny Boyle's inclusion of Britain's love of the NHS.

All a bit too 'Socialist' for American conservatives. Well so what, it's got nothing to do with them.

Looking back it was a great start to the Games in what's going to be an amazing and memorable couple of weeks for London and Britain.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

London 2012: The Olympics in numbers

The time has almost arrived!

I'm getting ready for some serious Olympic blogging over the next couple of weeks. I found this great data visualisation video on the Guardian's website today.

It gives you loads of stats and figures on the London games. Have a look and see what you think.

Monday 23 July 2012

London 2012: Schools have to get more kids playing sport

With the Olympics starting this Friday, they'll be an opportunity for millions of young people to be inspired by the exploits of Britain's athletes.

I read an interesting and slightly worrying statistic yesterday that said 40% of British medal winners at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing were privately educated.

Only 7% of the UK's population are privately educated, yet private schools are producing a disproportionate amount of our Olympians. Are we meant to believe that being privately educated makes you a better athlete?

I don't think so - but it suggests that the success of Britain's athletes in the next couple of weeks won't make much difference to many young people. Their chances of emulating our Olympic athletes will be down to the type of school they go to rather than sporting talent.

If you go to private school, sport plays a bigger part in your education. If you do have some sporting talent, there's a greater chance it will be identified and developed. This is no longer the case in many of our state schools.

As soon as the Olympics end next month, the talk of Olympic legacies will begin. How will the Olympics encourage more young people to participate in sports when so many schools don't seem to care about sport anymore?

Last week it was reported that two thirds of Britons don't take enough exercise to stay fit.

I think keeping fit and playing sports is a lifestyle choice, and it begins quite early in childhood. If you play a lot of sport growing up, you're more likely to keep it up during adulthood.

The fact that so many of our Olympic athletes are privately educated tells you that private schools still value and encourage sport in a way that state schools don't.

There's two negative effects to this. Firstly many kids at state schools miss out on the joys of taking up sport; and secondly it's not great for the health of the nation as less people grow up with habit of keeping fit which can lead to all kinds of health issues later in life.

Looking back at my own school days in the late in the late 1980s and early 90s, sport was a big part of my education. I was lucky to have the chance to play football, rugby, cricket, basketball, and athletics. Outside of school I did Karate and played badminton.

I didn't think that was anything special but I've started to realise that many school kids don't have the chance to play such a range of sports at school.

Critics of school sport fail to understand that sport is character building, and helps people in different areas of their lives.

You learn self discipline, new skills and techniques. How to work in teams, dealing with pressure, disappointment and achievement. I don't understand how others don't get this!

There's loads of different things which we hope the Olympics can encourage and inspire and I hope one of those things is that it get more kids playing sport as part of their school education.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Have we fallen in love with cycling?

It's the last day of the Tour de France today. For the first time in the Tour's 99 year history, we have a British winner in Bradley Wiggins.

Rather than ending 99 'years of hurt' it's more a case of 'wow we're actually pretty good at this cycling game!'

Bradley Wiggins explains what winning the Tour de France means to him

I've become a bit obsessed with the Tour de France in recent years. I was always aware of it, but probably like a lot of people I didn't really get it.

Last year I decided to make an effort to understand what it was all about. I spent an entire afternoon watching it until it all started to make sense.

Within a few days I was hooked, and I couldn't wait to get home after work for ITV4's highlights show at 7:00.

Now if anyone mentions peletons, prologues, time trials, and major journes it all make sense to me.

Cycling isn't traditionally a sport we really do in Britain. It's all very continental, a sport dominated by the French, Spanish and Belgium.

But perhaps things are changing. With Bradley Wiggins Tour victory, Britain's cycling track dominance in the last Olympic Games and more people cycling on the roads - maybe cycling is becoming a major sport in this country?

After watching last year's Tour de France I developed a new found respect for cyclists.

They're without doubt some of the toughest and hardest athletes around. This helps explain why I have so much respect and admiration for what Bradley Wiggins has achieved.

Watching this year's Tour, I've found him a compelling character. Forthright in his opinions during press conferences, outspoken against drug users, a bit of a neo Mod, and he speaks fluent French - he's become one of my favourite sport stars.

Sir Chris Hoy who won 3 Olympic gold in Beijing said Wiggins winning the Tour de France would be one of the greatest achievements of all time by a British sportsmen.

He's probably right, but Wiggins success is just part of the latest chapter in the growth of British cycling.

Britain dominated track cycling during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but this wasn't some bizarre one off success; it was the result of years of development in the sport aided by lottery funding to push British cycling to the forefront of world cycling.

That track success was used as a springboard to launch Team Sky with the aim of delivering a British winner of the Tour de France which has now been achieved.

It's going to be fascinating to see what Wiggins success will mean for cycling in the future. Cycling's been growing for a number of years now, and the likes of Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish and Victoria Pendleton have become household names. There's a real opportunity for cycling to develop in a way we've never seen before in this country.

Anyone who spends time in central London will know just how many people are cycling. Whether it's for leisure or as their main mode of transport, cycling is booming.

It's a great way to stay fit, it's economical, environmentally friendly and it's become fashionable to ride a bike.

There are downsides, particularly in London with the number of cyclists injured or killed on the roads. This is probably something which puts me off riding a bike in the city.

Despite this, cycling is enjoying a golden age both as a pastime and a professional sport in the UK, we'll have to see if it's just a passing phase or a breakthrough for the sport.

I'm now looking forward to the Olympics next week, with the Olympic road race taking place next Saturday. I'll think I'll pop down to the Mall to show my support for the likes of Cavendish and Wiggins.

Friday 20 July 2012

London 2012: Just a week to go

It's just a week now until the start of the London Olympics.

Here in Stratford I've started noticing a lot of Olympic volunteers and security staff around the tube station on my way to work in the morning.

During the last few days, I've seen a lot of athletes in their USA Olympic kits embracing life in Stratford. There was an American athlete in my local Chinese takeaway this evening. All very exciting to see.

I've watched every Olympic Games since Los Angeles in 1984. When I think of the Olympics I see an event that takes place in other world cities - not something that happens 5 minutes from my house!

Part of me thinks the International Olympic Committee has got it all wrong. 'Are you sure you want the Olympics to take place in Straford? It's in Rio in 4 years time, isn't that where you really want the Olympic Games to take place?"

Of course Stratford is part of London, and there are few cities in the world that can truly rival London in terms of history and culture and it's fitting that the Olympics should be held here.

Despite all the negative stories that inevitably accompany events like the Olympics, I'm still quietly confident that London will produce something special.

I don't care about the predicted disruption to my day-to-day travel or any other inconveniences. I know I'm going to be in the middle of something special and I can't wait.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Wimbledon defeat shouldn't detract from Murray's achievements

Hard not feel emotional watching Andy Murray struggle to give his speech after his Wimbledon final defeat against Roger Federer today.

The nation saw a different side to him, which I think will help his overall image. He can appear quite dour in interviews, but today we saw just how much it all meant.

As for Roger Federer what can you say. 18 months ago you wondered if he'd ever win another major title, but he was back to his absolute best. There was nothing Murray could do, he was simply beaten by the better player.

So where does this leave Murray?

Those of us who really know and follow tennis appreciate just how good Murray is and how unfortunate he is to be playing in this golden age of men's tennis.

If Murray was playing ten years ago, he'd arguably have 2 or 3 Grand Slam wins by now.

I still think he can do it - he's got the talent and hopefully with the help of another tennis legend in Ivan Lendl he's got somebody who knows what it takes to win Grand Slams after suffering Grand Slam defeats early on in his career.

Murray's achievements shouldn't be underestimated, he's from a country that hasn't had a men's Wimbledon finalist since 1938! That tells me this country has no modern tradition or culture of producing top quality tennis players.

It wasn't that long ago that having a British man in the second week of Wimbledon was seen as a major achievement (Anyone remember Jeremy Bates?).

He's already defied the odds with his career to date and this should be remembered. Even though he's 25 there's still time for him to win a major.

Federer is over 30 now, Nadal's punishing physical game will eventually take its toll, and Djokovic is unlikely to enjoy the same dominance he showed last year.

At the moment it's difficult to see who the next up coming group of players are going to be to take over so there's still hope for Murray.

We will have a British Grand Slam winner very soon.

Related post

Despite Andy Murray, we’re still rubbish at tennis!

Thursday 5 July 2012

Does London really need the Shard?

In the last few years, Londoners would have found it difficult not to have noticed the rise of the Shard skycraper over in London Bridge.

The building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano was offically opened today and is the biggest building in Europe.

I can see it from where I live in Stratford East London, and from outside my work in Kennington South London. It's completely altered the London Skyline.

Whenever I see it, I'm always impressed by the design and sheer scale of the Shard. It's a breathtaking building - but I still wonder whether it's something London really needs.

London is one of the world's great cities, it already has a number of historic and iconic buildings that are known all over the world. I don't think we need a giant glass pyramid dominating the skyline to somehow put London on the map.

That sort of thing should be left to places like Dubai or cities in the Far East, paricularly new ones in China that need some sort of statement building to let the rest of the world know they've arrived.

London doesn't need to announce itself to the world and it doesn't need to prove anything.

What do you think of the Shard? Does it add anything to London?

Sunday 1 July 2012

Euro 2012: My thoughts

Spain 4 Italy 0

Who saw this score line before tonight's final?

Not only are Spain the best team in Europe and the World, they're one of the game's all time greats. Hard to believe they were once the great underachievers of world football.

In my time of watching football, I don't think I've seen a team so far ahead of the rest of the opposition.

It's not often if ever you feel sorry for Italy but they just came up against a far superior team - there was nothing they could do.

A truly exceptional performance from Spain.

With Euro 2012 ending tonight I thought I'd look back on the tournament. Here are some of my main thoughts.

Less is more when it comes to quality

Why do UEFA insist on ruining the Euros by increasing the number of teams from 16 to 24?

When it comes to quality and standard of football, the Euros are so much better than the bloated World Cup. It's because you only have 16 teams, which is the perfect number for the tournament.

First round: Germany/Holland, Spain/Italy, England/France. In the World Cup you have to wait until the Quarter finals to get such match ups.

In the Euros, there's no messing about, you get heavyweight clashes from the off.

How we learned to love Germany and Italy

Italy and Germany are the two most successful teams in European international football. Have they always been respected? Yes, without a doubt. Have they ever been loved? Rarely until now.

Germany over the last 6 years have reinvented themselves. We always grudgingly admired their ability to grind their way to tournament finals and they've always had better players then some people have wanted to admit - but now we enjoy watching Germany.

Their play is entertaining, the team is young, vibrant, multi-ethnic they defy all our preconceptions of what Germany and Germans are all about. The victory against Greece was my favourite performance.


As for Italy, I was really rooting for them in tonight's Final. Italy like Germany have always ground their way through tournaments, playing their usual brand of conservative and introverted football.

In most tournaments, Italy always play about 20 minutes of beautiful football before reverting back to their shell.

It's something that's always baffled me about Italian football. They've produced some amazing players over the years, but always play with the handbrake on.

Not this Italy team. In terms of individuals, this isn't the greatest Italian team, but I've warmed to them.

They still have some very good players, and true fans of European football have known about the ability of Andrea Pirlo for years. I'm pleased to see him get the recognition he deserves.

They have possibly the world's best keeper in Gigi Bufffon, and upfront you have what on paper is the nightmare combination of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.

Cassano was the original bad boy or Italian football, but it's been an amazing story how he's battled back from heart surgery earlier in the season to play such an important role for Italy.

As for Balotelli, before the England game I listened to former England manager, Graham Taylor say he was unconvinced that he could be trusted in the biggest games.

His two goals against Germany show that perhaps he's now truly arrived as as serious international player of real quality. Also two great celebrations.

Perhaps Spain aren't quite so boring

It's a bit difficult to argue that Spain are boring following their 4-0 victory against Italy.

There have been games which if we're being honest haven't been the most entertaining to watch, but tonight's game the real Spain turned up.

I was pleased when Spain won Euro 2008, winning the World Cup in 2010 cemented their place as one of the all time greats - but we've seen a bit of a backlash in the last few weeks.

Excluding tonight's result, I haven't enjoyed watching all of Spain's matches. They've been dull to watch. A theory I heard and which I agree with, is that Spain's possession football is all about control. They control so much of the game that it kills their matches as a spectacle.

It's not their fault they're so far ahead of the rest of the opposition. For all their technical brilliance they often don't set the pulses racing. There's few WOW moments with Spain.

They grind their opponents to death with their beautiful passing which doesn't always create inspiring football to watch.

Don't worry - you can't say that about tonight's performance.

There are moments in sport where you know you're watching one of the all time greats. When it comes to football we're lucky to have this Spanish team.

More of the same from England

I didn't get excited by England's performances in Euro 2012 and I didn't get disappointed. My feelings were one of indifference.

It might have been in the second half during the Italy game or perhaps extra time, but as I watched the Italians dominate possession, I thought about what I was watching.

I realised I could have been watching any England performance from the last 20 years. Euro 92, France 98, Euro 2000, Germany 2006. It all just looked the same. The same inability to hold onto possession and pass the ball.

It was ridiculous how the Italy game went to penalties, and it would have been embarrassing if we went through. Nothing ever changes with England.

After Euro 2000 where Germany had a shocking tournament, they went away and had a hard long look at their football and how young players were being coached. They made changes and look at them now.

In England we never seem to learn. We never make changes and this is why I've become bored and indifferent to the team.

We're a Quarter final team, ranked somewhere between 7 - 12 in the World, but when we come up against the very best we come up short. This will continue until something radical changes.

The Premier League isn't all that

With England showing their usual failings, it reminded me that for all the hype, popularity and quality of the Premier League, it has absolutely no affect on England's ability to compete with the very best.

We curate the best league in the world, bringing together the world's best football talent, but I'd rather give some of that up, if it meant we had a more successful national team.

Look at Italy. Italian football is rotten to the core and quite unfashionable, but Italian football has a deep and solid football culture and identity which makes Italy always competitive. We don't have this in England.

So many players particularly English stars are hyped beyond belief, but we've seen top quality players in the Euros who aren't household names who have more tactical know how and technique then many of our hyped Premier League players.

Where are the English equivalents of Luka Modric, David Silva, Xabi Alonso or Andrea Pirlo? There aren't any - we import these players into our league.

Great for the Premier League but ultimately of no use to England.

Most impressive performance

It has to be Spain's performance in the final. Confirmation of their greatness.

Biggest Disappointment

Has to be the Dutch, I thought they might make the final. More stories of infighting they never really turned up.

After them it should be the French who are now the new Dutch, infighting and underachievement sums them up.

Best Match

Italy/Germany Probably, but the Germany/Greece game was pretty good as well.

Best player

Not very original but I'll go with Pirlo. He's been a class player for years, and his performances against England and Germany mean he's my best player.

Best goal

Balotelli's second against Germany, a brilliant strike and celebration. Loved the way he eventually broke out into a smile as his teammates hugged him.

Let me know your thoughts on the finals. Are Spain the greatest team in history? Are they better than the Brazil team of 1970? How can any other teams compete with them in the next few years?

So many questions - but for now lets acknowledge the brilliance of Spain.