The Heat is On for Sporty London


The summer sun is bringing Londoners out to play like never before. The Olympics are so last year.

The island’s gone sports mad and no denying. Every other person is out running up and down or holding something in their hand, trying to hit balls at someone else. Even a few kids have been prised away from their consoles and can be seen blinking in the daylight.

On TV is endless grass and sweaty limbs. Londoners have taken to the parks and streets with an array of equipment by turns baffling and terrifying. Perhaps it’s always been like this. Ruddy Englanders at play, practising our war skills. We only invented cricket, football and stuff like that to annoy foreigners who thought they’d invented it and to make sure we could kick and hit properly when the time came. Except, by the inverse law of how things actually turn out, sports have become the place where a lot of modern warfare is conducted. And that’s a good thing, obviously, except for when it leads to new violence and we’re back where we started.

This week in Brazil, a football referee was beheaded by spectators for stabbing a player who wouldn’t leave the field when red-carded. This actually happened. Play did not continue. The World Cup next year is looking lively.

In London, the Olympics were expected to lead to an increase in sports participation. But figures released by sports body Sports England show in fact they dropped for most sports, albeit slightly. Notable exceptions are swimming, and second highest riser in the sports pop chart, skiing. But, fair play, it has snowed a lot. In fact, since the Olympics finished we have languished in the worst and wettest winter on record. 

But now we’re on the up. We’re British, yeah, the sun’s out, and we invented pluck and grit and vim too. Plus, a third of Londoners grew up in sunnier climes and are showing us the sunnier ropes. Bubbly Europeans, smiling Asians, shining Caribbeans, all sorts uneducated in the ways of endless cloud and fog.

Sport is one of a range of improving social pleasures. We are transforming into a temperate warm culture, often without the actual warmth, granted, but that doesn’t stop us. For every al fresco dining table is an outdoor heater heating up the sky. For every fresh air swimming pool, a defibrillator and nurse standing by. Our newest superhero Lord Sir Andrew won Wimbledon in temperatures straight from downtown Cairo. This is a nation whose flexibility is borne of tolerance, borne of a diet of eel and nuts, and a sky made from malice and sea air. Panache is our birthright (albeit, like verve, elegance and esprit, once a French import).

A ripple of sporting confidence palpably radiates from the Olympic stadia, only half of which are proving white elephants, which is an extraordinary achievement by local planning standards. The twin draw at the heart of sport – having fun and doing your best – is reaching the ears of the sofa bound, despite the statistics and the hamstringing weather. It is the clarion call of post-Olympic London. Where we were lurching towards obesity and potato life, now we know we can put our molecules to better use.

Let’s just keep it social. I’d like to think we’re far from chopping up players of whom we disapprove, even if it sharpens their game. More likely, the same genius that laboured through the industrial revolution and came up with clocks and turbines and tunnels is even now hard at work preparing for the next Olympics. With three Games in the last century or so – 1908, 1948 and 2012 – we’re clearly the go-to place.

But it may be the kids who don’t make it outdoors to exercise who prevail. Remote-controlled robot Olympics, your time is coming. The victor teams will get to blow up the losers in the final. Whole democracies could link in through twitter feeds, elections won or lost in synch with their champions’ sporting outcomes. Meanwhile, to the park with the other old-school enthusiasts for a jog, and hopefully some cooling fog.

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