Team GB won 65 medals, 29 of them gold. The medallists came from all over
from all sorts of backgrounds but over a third (37%) of the medal winners were
from private schools, which educate just 7% of the population. It seems
that what we’ve always known about MPs is just as true for Olympic medallists –
if you went or go to a public school you have a better chance of winning.
Of course there are lots of reasons for this. Many of the sports that we did well in are sports that are mainly for the toffs – sailing, fencing, equestrian, shooting and of course rowing. You don’t get many council house kids learning to fence or having their own show-jumping pony; they might learn to shoot, but generally on the streets or in the army.
As for the other reasons; well, the selling off of school playing fields hasn’t helped, kids playing on X-boxes and eating pizza, and a strange breed of ‘right-on’ teacher have been actively discouraging competition since the late seventies in state schools, so much so that it hardly exists in schools these days. Right-on.
When I was at school – an uncomfortable mix of public and grammar – competition was everything, encouraged, demanded. Run, jump, push, hit, X’s versus Y’s (our two form year groups), house versus house, boy versus boy, year versus year. Win or lose you had no choice but to compete on and off the playing field; and if you didn’t - well you endured the wrath and jibes of a succession of ex-army games masters… you ‘orrible boy.
At the time turning up at my weekly house meeting in the chem-lab and reporting on how many house points I’d scored to cheers or jeers, or running eight miles in the pouring rain whilst wading through a muddy stream in only shorts and your running vest on a winter’s morning, or getting kicked to shit in the scrum of yet another rugby practice on a Sunday afternoon, seemed so normal. It was just what you did. If you didn’t then you were a misfit, something to pick on, ‘out of school’ as the boarding boys termed it.
For those that couldn’t or wouldn’t do sport, well there was always a term in
or death by radiator and toilet – your head flushed away then tied to a
scalding radiator until you begged for mercy. All good character building
Fortunately whilst I hated PE, detested football and cricket, and didn’t have a tennis racquet, I was pretty good at rugby and never wimped out on the Moreton run, always crossing the torrent of the river by the rope rather than the bridge and getting a single House Point for the soaking.
Happy days, but I got by.
Here’s the thing; almost to a man the boarding house boys at our schools were good sportsmen and I remain convinced that it was because they were in a kind of prison. Whilst us day boys were home watching telly or down the pub drinking and meeting girls, they were spending their evenings in the nets, lifting weights in the gym, scrumming against the scrumming machine, playing squash. If my school was generally competitive, the boarding house boys were uber-competitive, even competing over who… actually I’ll leave that bit out.
I often wish I’d kept sport up after school. I enjoyed it most of the time and, unlike the inactivity I enjoy now, activity never did me any harm. But then as I often say: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” and my dad could never have afforded to buy me a pony.