Legacy, legacy,legacy – they’ve all got legacy . . . to rewrite the “infamy” exclamation of the late comedian, Kenneth Williams.
But the value of legacy is only as powerful as the manner in which that particular torch is picked up and carried on – and English football can do just that with an Olympic legacy if it should so choose. Over the past fortnight commentators, analysts and – via phone-ins and social media – the sporting public have drawn unflattering comparisons between a perceived generation of snarling, ungrateful, highly-paid footballers and the grace and sportsmanship displayed by a wide range of Olympians both in the agony of defeat and the ecstasy of success.
This may be simplistic but, for all the community and charity work undertaken ‘below the radar’ by many players, a damaging ‘respect gap’ exists in the public mind and footballers do not emerge in a bright light. The issue was addressed by former internationals Andy Townsend and Gareth Southgate this past week during a talk-in which highlighted the inward value of football tourism based on the runaway success of worldwide television coverage of the Premier League. Asked about how football could harness the Olympic feelgood factor, Townsend said: “Relationship with the public is an issue. It’s unfortunate that because of the money players can earn this is the first thing people judge them by when the system the athletes work with is very different. “That said, the Olympics would have been a great experience for the Great Britain players, especially going into the Olympic Village and mixing with the other sports teams.
Sometimes football can be a bit insular and it would have been very instructive for them, especially the younger players, seeing the other elite athletes from other sports and how they conduct themselves.” Townsend, former captain of the Republic of Ireland and now TV analyst, thought that the pace and pressure of a season’s schedule meant players risked losing a perspective on their good fortune. He said: “When I look back I think how much I enjoyed it – running out for every game in front of a packed stadium. That is more than a lot of our Olympic athletes enjoy in their sports and I hope every football player appreciates it. “I know that a lot do but not all of them and maybe it can be an issue, particularly with youngsters growing up in the game now. The money and the other gains are not the first thing.
I hope the Olympics will have reminded them that they are in football to enjoy playing, to entertain and to win — and then all the other stuff will come.” Southgate, who left his role as the Football Association’s head of elite development during the summer, echoed Townsend’s comments.
The former England midfielder and Middlesbrough manager said: “I’ve picked up particularly on the humility evident in the behaviour of the athletes at the Olympics: the way that, if they’ve lost, they’ve accepted defeat, they haven’t looked to blame other people, they’ve accepted their own responsibilities – but also that, when they’ve won, they’ve celebrated that too in the right way and showed respect for their opponents. “That’s been very refreshing.” Shame on football that he could even say so.
Keir Radnedge is one of the foremost observers of international soccer. He has reported at every World Cup since 1966 and is a regular contributor to TV, radio, newspapers and magazines worldwide. He is London-based Editor of SportsFeatures.com and is chairman of the Football Commission of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS). Visit www.KeirRadnedge.com for further information. Follow him on Twitter for more sports industry updates.