Thoughts on politics and GB medal success


One of my core beliefs is that politics is everywhere, around us every day, in most of the things we do or engage with.

Even Joey Essex gets this – see here.

Few things irritate me more than the argument, ‘it should be about – and delete as applicable – sport/music/architecture/education/health, not politics’.

So there was no shortage of commentators sympathetic to left, right, remain and leave, diving – with considerably less grace and elegance than Tom Daley – into the debate around Great Britain’s medal success.

For those on the right, coming second in the medal table, as seems likely at time of writing – demonstrates the value of a free market, stand on your own two feet, approach to doling out cash.

It’s not about the amounts you put in, but about rewarding success. If sports don’t succeed – for example basketball – then they don’t get funding. If they do, they get more money and – as we’ve seen with women’s hockey and cycling – the results can be stunning.

It’s survival of the fittest played out in Lycra and a triumph of aggressive capitalism. You can read the Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner on this here.

Even better, the National Lottery, which funds much of GB sport, was the brainchild of a Conservative government. This cash doesn’t come from the general tax take, but from a voluntary levy. If you choose to buy a ticket, then you contribute.

Even John Major, whose premiership was widely regarded as a disaster, saw himself rehabilitated. The National Lottery, and therefore Olympic success, was his legacy.

But if you’re of a left-wing persuasion, you might work this out in a different way. I saw Tweets and letters that argued that GB Olympic success was strongly linked to the power of a well-resourced – centrally planned – state. 

And from my own personal experience, people on the left can often be a little uncomfortable with the idea of lottery funding. The argument that the National Lottery is a regressive tax on the poor has been around for some time.

As if left and right wasn’t enough, leave and remain seized on GB’s remarkable run of gold, silver and bronze, to back up their own arguments.

For leave, the UK’s success is proof that Britain is a formidable power on the world stage and has the strength to compete and succeed outside the trading bloc. Our success compared to Germany and France – traditionally seen as the two stalwarts of the EU -is often cited.

It all ties into the argument that the apocalyptic warnings of remainers were wrong, Again, her Majesty’s Daily Telegraph, sums this argument up better than I could.

Some in the remain camp responded to this, at one point showing how many medals the EU would have won if it were a country. Some also hinted that EU funding may have had a hand in some medal successes.

Meanwhile, the SNP appeared to be quieter than usual. After all, many of the most successful teams featured Scots competing under the flag of a union the party that controls Scotland wants to break up. 

Just a thought, but if I was a political opponent of Nicola Sturgeon’s party I’d be thinking about using GB’s medal haul as an argument in next May’s Scottish local government elections.

In politics there are few stronger and more emotionally resonant metaphors than sporting success.

(Photograph from