Which country has 3 sportsmen in their twenties who are at the apex of their sport? Did you guess the correct answer: the UK – Chris Froome, Rory McIlroy and Andy Murray. Add to these Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Cavendish, Lewis Hamilton, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah , our jockeys and the list of British sportsmen and women becomes impressive.
Yes – typing this listening to England v Bangkadesh, I know the knives will be out for English cricket – its players, coaches and administrators – should we lose. Much the same has happened in the football team for years. Leading the charge is the press. In case you have not realised, my point it is this: there is an underying assumption that there is some perennial right that British sport should achieve across the board. If it does not, as with the national football team for years, then the press castigate the manager often in a vicious campaign.
I was trying to think of another country that has comparable achievers. Germany can boast Sebatian Vettel, a superb national footbal team and Bayern Munich, Spain great footballers and golfers, but even countries with bigger populations like Brazil or USA can hardly rival us. Great sporting nations like Australia and South Africa have at he only golfers and the odd cricketer – often playing for England – to rival us. France’s national sport is cycling but it’s been ages since a Frenchman won the Tour. In that waiting period they produced a football team that held the Euros and World Cup concurrently whilst our Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome donned the yellow jersey.
There is no divine right to produce successful teams or sportsmen. It is the crop of talent you have at any moment in time. For some reason Sweden has some successful golfers (Stenson, Noren, Karlsson) and Serbia tends to punch above its weight in tennis and football.
Great Britain competes in a variety of sports with varying success and distinction. In the mid 70s we had Ovett and Coe. In the past few years Redgrave has totally dominated the Olympics and every other regatta.
Personally I think there is one area where UK Sport has remained pretty much at the bottom for as long as I can remember: that is the way it is reported.