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Diary

Diary

28 July 2012

6:00 AM

28 July 2012

6:00 AM

Looking back, there was a moment right at the start when the coalition government could have asserted its authority, and changed the political weather. As soon as they took office, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne should have said, quite truly, that they were dealing with the catastrophic economic inheritance of the previous government, that austerity was the order of the day, and that a symbolic start would be made with the coming London Olympics. These would be drastically reduced in size and scale, with some venues scrapped, and ‘non-events’ ejected altogether. Synchronised swimming isn’t sport, it’s kitsch, and beach volleyball is simply soft porn: the only ‘sport’ whose rules specify the maximum size of costumes, to ensure the babes wear itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny bikinis.

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The monstrous 2006 Act should have been repealed to ensure no totalitarian persecution of anyone selling products with the words ‘2012’, ‘Gold’ and ‘London’. Above all there would be no Zil lanes or privileges of any kind for sponsors and the scoundrels of the International Olympics Committee. Tony Blair, Boris Johnson and the IOC should have been told to like it or lump it: they could scarcely have found another city at two years’ notice. It would have transformed the government’s standing.

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As it was, our new rulers capitulated to the Olympics lobby as abjectly as their predecessors, and now London braces itself for the ordeal. I give heartfelt thanks that I no longer live there, many Londoners I know are leaving town for the duration, and those who remain can hear the eerily echoing voice of Big Brother, I mean the Mayor, ordering them not to use the Underground. All it needs now is for an aircraft to stray off course through innocent navigational error, to be shot down by ground-to-air missiles, and strew debris from Crouch End to Clerkenwell. And still, so far from showing any awareness of public revulsion at this hysteria, megalomania and sheer abominable inconvenience, the prime minister and the Chancellor snigger about how much they’re looking forward to ogling the beach volleyball babes. We’d hoped for a Ministry of All the Talents; we seem to have got a Ministry of All the Dirty Old Men.

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This is written by someone who retains an intense schoolboy love of games. It’s a very long time since I was a useful tight-head prop, and a rather less enthusiastic oarsmen (I sympathised with Osbert Lancaster, who said, after a day on the river at Oxford, that he understood why in civilised societies rowing had been confined to the criminal classes), and my only real participation sport now is skiing. I hope to keep at it until I drop on the piste, inspired by the example of Peter Lunn, who died last November at 97. After a career in SIS, about which he wasn’t at all secretive, he retired to spend his winters in Mürren, where I used to bump into him, and where he still took part in the Inferno race in his nineties.

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Otherwise I’m an armchair sportsman, and like others such found last weekend exhausting, what with the Open, the Oval Test, the ‘KGVI’ at Ascot and, far and away the best, the wonderful Tour de France. I’ve followed it since the days of Anquetil and Bahamontes and then, rather to my surprise, spent a few years covering it as a sideline for the FT and Daily Mail, while writing a book about it. I never thought to see in Champs-Elysées an English cyclist in the maillot jaune, nor for that matter that we would have a national sporting hero like Bradley Wiggins, not just a winner but a completely winning personality. Chapeau!

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Mercifully, the Tour isn’t covered by the BBC, whose relentless dumbing-down is exemplified by sport. It’s hard to regret their losing the Derby or Royal Ascot when their coverage has been so feeble (excepting Jim McGrath’s commentaries), but then glib fatuity prevails whatever the sport. The BBC must have a recruitment scheme for babbling bimbettes, doubtless in the name of ‘diversity’. Some go on to be Radio 3 presenters, some into sport. Budding television reporters are taught the Interrogative Asinine — ‘Tell me, how did it feel when you heard that your parents, your husband and all your children had been wiped out it this terrible disaster?’ — as a prelude to asking someone who’s just scored a century or hat-trick, ‘How good was that?’ Last Saturday morning, the American golfer Brandt Snedeker had a mike thrust at him with the words, ‘Top of the leaderboard! That must feel good going into Round Three. Is that skill, discipline or a bit of luck?’ He managed to keep his temper, and say quietly, ‘All three.’ At least poor Adam Scott wasn’t asked, ‘Tell me, how did it feel when you realised you’d had the famous claret jug in your hands and dropped it?’


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