With the closing ceremony of the Olympics a day away, the media is now firmly in analysis mode: what the success of the games has meant, what we can take from them, and what our sources of pride should be. It will take a few weeks for everything to settle and then perhaps, a real appraisal can take place. But in the meantime, Charles Moore in today's Telegraph makes some salient and constructive points:
'...Britain has done more than any other country to create competitive sport. The chief reason for this has been a good balance between the individual and the collective, between the importance of invention and the importance of rules. Again and again, the pattern has been that a few people take up something – kicking a bladder, whacking a ball with a stick, jumping over a pole – for fun. Then they form teams and clubs. Then they draw up rules. Then people like coming to watch, and sometimes to bet. Then, in modern times, these games are broadcast. They become a part of life and legend, a subject for education, a source of money and a massive cultural export.
Almost none of this was done by government. It was worked out by the Marylebone Cricket Club or the Marquess of Queensberry or the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, and by hundreds more ad hoc individuals and bodies. Government can help provide the locations and the infrastructure. Business can provide the sponsorship. The combination of the two has been a great help in the Olympics. But neither can make the players. These arise from the skills, habits and spirit of the people. Stick it all together somehow, and you get somewhere – as we just have.
Why don’t we follow this approach more often? Why don’t we see that when a business invents something, you are unwise to weigh it down with tax and regulation? Why don’t we see that when a university has made itself world-famous over centuries, we should not start attacking it for admitting the best? Why, when private schools do so well in providing athletes (and many other forms of excellence), do we not study their success more closely, rather than complaining about their dominance?
And why do we not understand more clearly that our historic success in sport, triumphantly renewed in this last fortnight, has similar roots to our historic success in most other fields? The English law grew up by learning from individual cases rather than imposing universal doctrines. The British Parliament gained its strength not from its theoretical perfection, but from the evolution of its independence, now sacrificed to Europe. There is a greater need than ever to innovate, but the British paradox is that the power to innovate comes from our traditions. Between the opening ceremony and the closing one tomorrow, we have been rediscovering them.