What shadow will the Olympics cast on the Premier League?

So the greatest sporting party that Great Britain has ever seen finished a few weeks ago, as Oscar Pistorius ran his way to gold in the final event of the Paralympics. The naysayers found their gloomy predictions of a broken transport system, disinterested public and fractured economy to be somewhat dispelled. For seven weeks, from the Olympics opening ceremony and Danny Boyle’s first patient bouncing on an NHS bed to the spectuacular fireworks of the Paralympics closing ceremony, the public has been in a state of reverie, singing the praises of the sporting heroes they had just watched.

Every great party has a hangover though, and for sport it looks as if the good times enjoyed by the Olympics will convert into bad times for the Premier League. The Community Shield, only a day after, caused Roy Hodgson to remark that the contrast between the two events would be a ‘wake up call’ for the league, a sentiment echoed by the ever articulate Joey Barton in his summary that football had ‘disappeared up its own arse.’ So has the sunshine of the Olympics cast a grey cloud over the league that costs £3m per hour to televise, has a revenue of nearly £3 billion pounds and consumes a good majority of waking hours devoted to sport in the UK – the Premier League?

A study[1] on the impact of the games found that 16% of people were viewing the Premier League in a less favourable light as a result of the games, rising to 19% of men. Age seems to have had a marked impact; 21% of those aged over 65 said that the games had made them view the Premier League more negatively, but only 9% of 25-34 year olds. But why is this? Is one full of nasties, whilst one made up of genuinely nice people?

The pervading spirit of the games was one of optimism, the nation embracing the feeling of all being in this together, crowd, athletes, and games makers all setting out to show London at its best and achieve something great. Contrast this to the Premier League, which has increasingly started to have a ‘them and us’ feel, lacking in that mutual appreciation that many people feel encapsulated the games.

Footballers don’t need to engage with the crowd. Whether they smile or not, turn up for training every morning, appear grateful for a rapturous reception, they will still be paid a wage that could buy them a house each week. You could argue that this luxury of money would make them more amenable and personable to fans, but as anyone who has ever stared into the distance whilst at work, or taken a little more time than necessary over brewing the afternoon cuppa, the promise of a wage does not translate into enthusiasm and goodwill.

The behaviour off the pitch of footballers is often what casts a shadow on our views of them on pitch. Usain Bolt’s flirtations make us smile at the ‘lad’ but if we followed him day in day out would we learn of more sinister affairs and ungentlemanly behavior? The more we learn about the lives of footballers the less we like them – and who’s to say Olympic sports people would be any different.

One of the criticisms thrown at football is its inaccessibility, which is certainly a problem. Far from being the hobby of the working man, it is an expensive passion to have, whether you choose to just subscribe to the Sky package, or trek to every match. Unfortunately, despite the very reasonable prices for Olympics tickets, the poor balloting system and over allocation to corporate bodies meant that tickets were difficult to come by, making the games just as inaccessible as the expensive and waiting list only football matches.

The motto ‘Inspire a generation’ felt real throughout the games, and numerous examples of people starting sport, young boys jumping over fences shouting ‘I’m Jessica Ennis’, and the first sold out Paralympics reveal. But what does football do if not inspire generations and generations of young boys? Perhaps this is the problem – football, for an every man’s game, actually only has a sporting inspiration on a relatively small part of society.

Rightly so, the guys and girls dressed in purple have been recognised as true heroes of the Olympics. The games makers did literally make the Games. High fiving, cheering, rousing the crowd, these volunteers are to be celebrated and lauded. Unfortunately, human nature being as it is means that it easy to be excited about a once in a life time event – but would the games makers still be as chipper in January? Consider the amount of abuse thrown at security at football matches, and it’s easy to understand why they get a little grouchy at the crowd.

Things that are fleeting are always looked at more fondly. A holiday, a girl, a good song – intense bursts of enjoyment that once starting to become routine, we start to pick holes in. The games seemed to have soul, but anything starts to lose its shine when it moves from the realm of novelty to normality. We have become disillusioned with the Premier League as the fantasy lifestyles of footballers have become a normality, and thus their feeling of gratitude for their career appearing a given right.

I loved the Olympics. Every single minute, medal and mega grin of it. The Olympics can not be held up as a shining example of how a nine month a year sporting league can work, as it is not. But this does not mean that the Premier League can be let off the hook. Problems exist, they definitely do, and rather than compare one event to another, to remedy those, all events need to be taken back to their heart – sportsmanship, playing to win, and playing with passion.

[1] Aurora Justtheanswer Omnibus, w/c 13th August 2012. 1014 adults, nationally representative

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