Olympic dream is being strangled by target practice
In exactly two years time, the Olympic flame will be lit at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The Games has the potential, with its emphasis on sustainability, to alter the landscape of British sport for generations. It could, and it is a large conditional, have the effect that the 1992 Olympics had and that was to change the face of Barcelona, a city that shone so much it will play host to another major sporting competition, the European Championships, over the next five days. However, the potential is being stifled and suffocated and jeopardised by a chief executive with too much to say. Rather, the success of London 2012 is being threatened by targets.
The aptly named Andy Hunt, chief exec of the British Olympic Authority, announced last week that Britain’s medal target at the 2012 London Games was being downgraded. Authorities apparently decided that sixth place in the final medals table is more realistic than fourth, which was optimistically set back in 2005 after winning backing to hold the games. Cue much hoo-ha, claims that Mr Hunt was underselling our fair nation, people insisting the home advantage and a rekindling of the war spirit will see us soar up the table, blahdy blah blah.
What Hunt and co. should have been discussing over their coffee and their pain-au-chocolat, and what everyone seemed to miss, nay continually forget, is that Olympic targets are a very dangerous game to play. They, just like all targets, are a minefield of disaster and despair because 1) they are always set too early and 2) they cannot factor in the incalculable.
You see, the problem is that targets are the product of one man crunching some numbers. ‘£550 million spent on 2012 Olympics …divided by 26 sporting disciplines…. multiplied by the ratio of Lottery funding each sport received in the four years since Beijing….’ etc etc’. Now Pope and Swift understand that targets help to quantify and allow for the horrid men in suits to check if their hard, cold cash has been spent wisely but they don’t take into account factors like an athlete wanting to win. A lot. The targets don’t factor in Phillips Idowu wanting revenge after being pushed into silver in Beijing. They don’t bear in mind Mo Farah’s heartache in China and his wanting to put it right in London.
More than that though, the targets don’t actually contribute to the athletes winning. They don’t provide any motivation, other than their own desire to succeed. They don’t help Christine Ohuruogu in the build up to her 400m final and they don’t make Mark Lewis Francis think ‘God man, they were banking on me to get a bronza, I better step it up’. So, if they aren’t accurate, because they cannot factor in injury or the athlete’s primal urge to win, and they do not provide additional motivation to take gold, what do targets ACTUALLY do?
Targets, in this respect, can only cause trouble. After what has happened in the past week with the altered medal expectations, whatever happens in 2012 will be about the targets and not about the athletes. The papers will read ‘BOA admit mistake as Britain easily exceed sixth place medals expectation’ or ‘Britain fail to make downgraded target’. These targets will only ever serve to disappoint.
Let us put it this way. Dave Brailsford, the cycling Director of Performance, said to The Guardian inregards to London 2012 that ‘We never made medal predictions’. Is it any coincidence that Brailsford’s cycling squad, unhindered by expectations and needing to get this many medals, or that many medals, were the bedrock of Olympic success in Beijing? Probably not. Looking at the larger picture, is it a coincidence that Spain, with so much of it’s sporting facilities built around Barcelona after 1992, have just won the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Tour de France? Almost certainly no again.
If Britain has any chance of a year of sporting success in twenty years time to match that of the Spaniards, it needs to throw off the chains and get rid of those Olympic targets.