Britain and sport, are we better at it than anyone else?

April 25, 2021 Tokyo, Japan. Gold, silver and bronze medals of the XXXII Summer Olympic Games 2020 in Tokyo on the background of the flag of Great Britain.

There is no doubt we love our sport, we pay a fortune for tickets to watch our favourite teams or events in the flesh, subscribe to TV networks that allow us to instantly immerse ourselves in a multitude of sports no matter the time of day. But are we better at it than any other nation?

Judged on results alone you would have to deduce the answer is no, but is there more to sport than winning? I’m not talking about the conveniently trotted out cliché “it’s not about the winning its about taking part”. With the possible exception of music, nothing binds strangers, friends or family, or summons up the blood quite like sport. It can create euphoria, anxiety & despair, turn grown men in to cry babies and lift a nation.

It would be true to say the UK ‘punches above its weight’ when it comes to sporting success, sometimes dominating events. Notable examples include the golden age of middle distance running with Coe, Ovett and Cram, rowing with Redgrave, Pincent then Cracknell. Let’s also not forget Britain’s cycling dominance at most major events over the last 15 years. We could also point to inspiring characters like Paula Radcliffe, Mo Farrah, Ellen MacArthur, Lewis Hamilton, Jonathan Edwards, Ben Ainsley, the list of truly inspiring sports men and women goes on and on, even without stepping back to ‘the olden days’ (pre 2000).

Unlike countries such as the USA who herald only success, we love an underdog, remember Eddie the Eagle? The underdog doesn’t even need to be British. A case in point was Coco Gauff at Wimbledon in 2019. The level of affection and support sometimes drives these underdogs to achieve greater results than expected. A great example of this is Dame Kelly Homes, who went from a very good runner proficiently representing her country whist serving as an army officer to becoming a double Olympic gold medallist and well-deserved peer of the realm.

Every so often the planets align providing us with an over lapping feast of great sport. This month has been a great example. Euro 2020, or is it 2021? and Wimbledon have just drawn to a close, the British & Irish Lions rugby tour of South Africa is underway, and the British Grand Prix is almost upon us, along with the British Open Championship, hotly followed later in the summer with the Tokyo Olympics.

As an avid sports fan I’ve stated to appreciate the quality of organisation and coverage at major sports events, let’s call it the overall experience. I think we host events better than anyone else. I don’t know whether this is latent expertise, or our history in the pantheon of sports events having created most sports. Unlike some countries we invite other nations to enter a world series or championship. Or perhaps it is our recognised prowess in pomp and pageantry?

Factoring in fair play, sportsmanship, organisation, coverage, culture and the pomp surrounding events, then over laying success, I’d proffer Britain is better at sports than any other nation! Or am I just an optimist with a jaundiced view, clouded by my love of sport and country?