It seems a bit late to talk about the Olympics. That was last year's news. But I was always concerned we would take the wrong message from the Olympics and Paralympics. It has been revealed that half a million soldiers, nurses and teachers will have their incomes slashed in the coalition's benefits crackdown. That is half a million 'strivers'; half a million winners. Mr Cameron clearly has learned very little from the Olympics. If you want winners then you have to support them.
Like many others I was enthralled by the wonderful success of British athletes. Each day I would clap with joy at each new medal added to the tally. I didn't expect to be so riveted by it all. "Isn't it fantastic?" friends and relatives would say. And I would say "Yes! Fantastic! Wonderful!" But even as I expressed my enthusiasm, I had nagging doubts. Not doubts that it was fantastic, or about the effort and achievement of the athletes. I shared their joy. I shared their emotion. Often tears came to my eyes as they lifted their medals for all to see on the podium. No, my doubts were about the message.
It was inevitable that the Olympics would mint political coinage. After all, as well as being a competition, it is a political event, a political circus. And politicians were there beaming away at medal ceremonies, if only to show what good blokes they are. Some for their pains got booed; oh the joy. Almost immediately the Olympic spirit was turned into political rhetoric. The prime minister in his Party conference speech referred to the 'lesson'. Britain's Olympians and Paralympians he told us
"have taught us another lesson: graft equals success. You don’t get to the podium without making huge sacrifices and really wanting to win. That lesson can be applied to our country. It will be a hard road to success – but that’s the road we must take."
What he meant was the pain of cuts in spending and welfare will be the price worth paying for success. Hard work and dedication are certainly needed to achieve any ambition. But the idea that this is all it needs is very wide of the mark. Furthermore, it offers a false prospectus.
Olympic success did not come from hard work and dedication alone. It had a vital ingredient; funding, investment. Success in the velodrome wasn't due to the hard work and dedication of the athletes alone. It came at least in part because of investment of many years. Hard work and dedication won't win gold without it. If talent is not spotted, nurtured, supported, then it will wither on the vine, no matter how much hard work and dedication a talented individual puts in. Going for gold is not itself sufficient. As UK Sport says it takes the provision of support services "without which the UK's top athletes would find it difficult to be competitive on the world stage." Olympic athletes have what most of us can't have, even those of us who are equally talented. They have a team dedicated to improving performance.
In the London Olympics British cyclists won 8 golds, 2 silver and 2 Bronze. This was achieved with funding between 2009 - 2012 of £26m. As Sir Chris Hoy says of his achievements in the sport, without the funding and support "there's no chance I would have achieved these goals."
Physiotherapists, sports masseuse, nutritionists, sports psychologists, strength and conditioning coaches, lifestyles advisers, biomechanicists, technical coaches, the list goes on.And then there are the researchers developing new sports gear just to give the team the edge; certainly true of cycling. All working with the hope that the hard work of just one or two, or perhaps just a few individuals will win. Just a few, not the many. For every winner there are many more who don't win; for every athlete who gets to the games, there a many who do not. No the Olympics is not where we find the answers. It has very little to tell us about the real world. We can be 'inspired' by Olympic athletes, but they are exceptional, and no matter how inspired we might be, on the whole we won't have access to the kind of support they need.
So, the real lesson is not the hard work and pain. That is a given. There are many hard working people doing that day in and day out to keep a roof over the heads and feed their families. Contrary to the portrayal by Mr Cameron and his colleagues, the majority of those receiving welfare benefits are hard working and dedicated, day in and day out. But, for the poorest of them, he is cutting their support. They are winners and yet he is taking away from them the support they need to go on being winners; bread winners for their families.
They keep the engine of Britain going day in and day out. They are striving, working hard. They deserve to be supported.