Geoff Kidder: Institute of Ideas
Geoff Kidder is head of membership and events of the Institute of Ideas. He convenes the monthly IoI Book Club, and supervises the IoI’s administration and event management. He also produces debates, particularly on sport, at the annual Battle of Ideas festival in London.
The hostile reaction to the Dutch game plan is an indicator of how football has changed in the past 20 years. More and more physical aspects of the game are now penalised, such as the tackle from behind and slightly mistimed tackles, and so the Dutch approach which would have been the norm in a previous age is considered beyond the pale today.
Admiring the quality of play in the semi-final between Spain and Germany, I realise that barring an act of god, it will be many years and require a complete change of footballing culture before England can hope to produce 11 players who look this comfortable in possession of a football.
Everyone from Boris Johnson to Richard Caborn to Jeremy Clarkson and Uncle Tom Cobbley has had their say. Every issue from highly-paid players to the selling off of playing fields and the decline of competition in schools has been held up as the cause of England’s demise. Once again the England team is held up as a cause and solution of any social problem which you care to name.
Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil (in flashes) have shown their quality, and the outstanding players so far have been the Argentine forward line and Diego Forlan of Uruguay. There is time for this pattern to change, and the Europeans can still get their act together, but the South Americans are definitely ahead at this stage.
In many ways, as one commentator said, this is a traditionally unconvincing England start to a tournament. The more astonishing thing was to hear ITV pundits agree that it was a good or very good England performance. True, some individual players played quite well, but it was never convincing as a whole, and a pale shadow of a team performance compared to Argentina earlier in the day.
The England players were confident and determined, their fielding inspired, the batting audacious and captain Paul Collingwood seems to have matured into a tactical genius. The spirit of this England side is so unlike the plucky losers for which this country is famous, and it is a joy to behold.
The Olymposceptics have been sheltering under a stone for the last ten days, but will now crawl back out into the light. In the coming months we will need to be vigilant to stand up for the sporting values we cherish and against those who would belittle the success of British or other athletes.
These days we seem to play down the creative side of humanity, and focus on the dark side of human relations. We see the child who may have been abused by his or her coach, or worry about what the person has been through to reach success, but in doing this we ignore the skill and creativity it takes to win a gold medal.
Why are these external technological aids acceptable and even celebrated, when a whole panoply of internal aids are proscribed by being labelled ‘drugs’, and hang as a constant threat over the athletes and the Olympic Games themselves?
The tennis tournament does not have the prestige of a Grand Slam and is not about to. Like the Olympic football tournament, which resembles a mini youth World Cup, it is a chance to showcase the sport but not much else. Golf now wants Olympic status and a piece of the action.
The constant carping and criticism of China in the run up to the Beijing Games has made enjoyment of the sport something of a guilty pleasure. During this month we should be celebrating the high points of human physical achievement that are taking place in Beijing. It is time to knock the critics off their lofty perch.