08/15/2012

Rio Olympics: A look ahead

After the London Games, Team GB hopes to be successful in Rio, whilst the Swiss try to see how they can improve by emulating Britain. This might not be easy!


Last Monday Heathrow airport was full of athletes and officials returning home: it was thought to be the busiest single day ever. As in the previous two weeks, all of the transport, including by air, seems to have worked better than most people expected. This will probably raise again the proposition for a third runway at Heathrow, with the experience of these weeks giving arguments both to those who would like a third runway and to those who think it unnecessary.

The actual Olympic Games seems to have been a success from all points of view, in particular with Team GB winning lots of medals, coming in third in the overall table. It was even said that the county of my birth (Yorkshire) would, if it were a country, be in 10th place. Unfortunately, Switzerland rather underperformed, through a mixture of bad luck and insufficient overall quality. There have since been newspaper articles suggesting that Switzerland should try to follow the British methods.

One interesting reason for the British success was picked up in an article in the Sunday Times of 12 August. The author noted how one particular state secondary school (pupils from 11 to 18) has been responsible for producing many budding sportsmen. The head teacher of the school has been asked by the Government to explain why it has been so successful. His reasons were very interesting to me, since the school was Northampton school for boys, the school at which I was educated a long time ago (when it was a grammar school).

This school, in my time, always considered sporting activities as very important. At that time there were in-school competitive sports one afternoon per week, whilst at weekends the school had teams who went to compete against other schools in the region. Teachers voluntarily participated in these activities, with some being very good sportsmen themselves. This apparently changed (I would say for the worse!) when the school was forced by political dogma to become comprehensive, but the pendulum has swung back again, so that it is now much as I remember it.

Knowing the Swiss school system, I doubt that the example could be easily applied here. As things stand, it is expected that competitive sporting activities be taught outside the schools, often on the Wednesday when there is no school. This then puts the onus onto the parents, who even with much goodwill, find themselves having to ferry their children around all that day (not easy in these days when both parents often want to work!). Thus, there is no organised way to expose children to multiple sports and find which of them show particular promise.

However, even as Britain basks in the golden glow, even Lord Sebastian Coe has seriously asked the question as to whether the next generation will be able to continue to perform successfully. He even suggested that we might see for the first time in history the case of parents being healthier and sportier than their children. The obvious reason is that it is now so easy for children to sit in front of their computer and play virtual sports or games, often with a bag of rubbish food next to them. Obesity in children is becoming more and more common, and this is surely one of the reasons.

I would like to see competitive sporting activities playing a larger rôle in Swiss schools, but I have my doubts as to whether it can happen in the current framework of childrens' education.

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