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A glorious summer of sport. And we might even win something | Alex Clark

June 30, 2012

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What better way to deal with an uncertain future than by a series of nail-biting distractions?

‘The flag’s gone limp,” said the commentator, as the camera alighted on a nervous and slightly damp ten nis fan trying not to look too self-conscious about her miniature Union flag during Heather Watson’s third-round defeat to Agnieszka Radwanska at Wimbledon on Friday. At the time, the gloom was a little premature: Watson was only two games down and might well, for all we knew, have fought back. (We should also be careful to point out that she had already had a far better run in the ladies singles championship than any British female tennis player since Elena Baltacha, way back in 2002.)

The disembodied voice was mildly disconsolate – its owner may have had more idea than us what was likely to come – but it also had a touch of rueful humour to it.

After all, this is hardly an unfamiliar position for the sports fan from these shores. Whether we’re surveying the neat green surfaces of SW19 or bracing ourselves to watch our football team act as if astonished by the very notion of penalties, our default mode is one of stoicism in the face of bad luck and the super ior abilities of other nations.

But that is what is so miraculous about this summer. Its brazen excess of sport dares England, or Britain, or Team GB, not to win something – a summer entirely devoid of medals or trophies would flout the laws of probability so comprehensively as to be positively unscientific. Particularly when you factor in such delights as the cricket; with still more than a week of one-day internationals against Australia to whet your whistle, you can gently segue into three Test matches, five ODIs and three Twenty20s against South Africa before England finally set sail for India in September, quite possibly reigning supreme in all three varieties of the sport.

That’s if you can tear yourself away from the Tour de France and the sight of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish pedalling away from the peloton and into pole position to swipe the yellow and green jerseys respectively.

Jingoism, however, goes before a surprise capitulati on and an early bath, so let’s try not to get too excited. Let’s ponder, instead, the effects of the increased excitement about sport engendered by this season of wall-to-wall global competition.

I know that even to make such a claim risks provoking a reaction akin to those angry letters fired off to Points of View in the olden days when there were only one-and-a-half channels and Juliet Bravo was always being rescheduled because of the snooker; and I’m sure there are those who didn’t find themselves dashing back from the kitchen, where they’d only just gone to make a cup of tea after the Italy-Germany match, to watch Rafa Nadal unexpectedly losing to somebody most of us had never heard of.

There are, I have no doubt, those who have not carefully planned out this evening’s Euro final-themed TV dinner (tapas; insalata tricolore; and thank heavens the Germans didn’t win, because wurst and sauerkraut just aren’t right in this kind of weather) and h alf-time soundtrack (sadly, no Krautrock).

But if offices and buses and waiting rooms and dinner tables are anything to go by, more people than usual have got into the sporting swing. Together, we have watched as the European championships threw up some battles that mirrored the geopolitical situation in extraordinarily uncanny fashion (none more so than Greece v Germany on the night that the Greeks went to the ballot box; unsurprisingly, Germany scored twice as many goals as their opponents) and breathed a sigh of collective relief as the tournament proceeded without, as many had feared, widespread incidents of racism.

The competition produced a standard of football that took even the most trenchant and sceptical of pundits by surprise; even England, before their now traditional spot-kick exit, freaked everyone out by topping their group although as the semifinals showed, they have some way to go before matching the creativity, imagination and ability of the fou r teams who got that far. We can only hope that Roy Hodgson holds true to his promise of “revolution” in the national game and doesn’t just write off tiki-taka football as a continental frippery.

Hodgson might simply have been counting his blessings that Stuart Pearce has stepped up to draw the fire by refusing to allow the 94-year-old David Beckham to turn out for his country one last time, despite the fact that he single-handedly persuaded every single member of the IOC to let us have the Games here, and then dug the foundations of the Olympic Stadium with his teeth. (OK: DB is 37; many other selfless individuals were part of the Olympic bid; no celebrity teeth were harmed in the making of the Olympics.) True, to see Beckham taking a free kick for Team GB would have had a special resonance; but Pearce is surely right to select the best team available to him.

As Beckham has reminded us in such timely fashion, the Olympics beckon, ushering in the pr ospect of yet more sports about which to become instant armchair experts. Even the most eclectic among you must surely have the odd gap in your knowledge: nobody can be an expert in dressage, rhythmic gymnastics and Greco-Roman wrestling – although we can all furiously mug up in the little time remaining to us.

But it’s not just about showing off your knowledge of the BMX biking and the modern pentathlon. It’s also about reconnecting with what makes sport not only an enjoyable but also an important part of life: about celebrating the feats of effort and endurance that have taken so long to prepare for; about watching human beings move from exquisite highs to devastating lows in the space of minutes; and about competition between countries that may seem crucial but, in the scheme of things, simply isn’t.

What, perhaps, we have been tapping into is a sense of joyousness and a temporary release from what ails us, whether it’s appalling weather or deep-sea ted financial insecurity. What better way to deal with an uncertain future than by a series of nail-biting distractions?

And if you are a true pessimist who can only see a rapidly approaching, post-Olympic void, never fear: the new Premier League season starts on August 18, at which point normal service will be resumed. In other words, you may well experience separation anxiety, but it will only be from your hard-earned cash. Read More

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