The Delroy Alexander column: A wary eye on Team GB
The dust has settled on Euro 2012. There was talk of Spain being boring before the final. The beautiful passing, intricate movement and strategic triangles that make the World and European champions who they are seems to have induced some mass yawning. That was before they saved their best until last. Italy, who had been so impressive in beating Germany in the semi-final, were no match for them.
Perhaps it’s not that Spain are boring, more that their opponents are filled with fear and a lack of adventure.
It’s that lack of adventure that strikes me as I cast a wary eye towards the London 2012 Olympic Games. I am truly shocked to see that David Beckham won’t be involved.
What has the game come to when its most popular player is not selected to play in his home country’s biggest sporting event in a century? Great Britain’s participation in the football tournament was a triumph that promised to light up the 2012 Games.
As an East Londoner, who made the journey from obscurity to football immortality through hard work and perseverance, Beckham – more than most – has understood what these Games means to the area.
Without Beckham, the Games will surely miss something special. Beckham, more than any other athlete, deserved to be in the Olympic squad. His larger than life support for the tournament helped bring it to the UK and it is unfathomable that we won’t get a chance to see football’s most popular entertainer perform on the biggest stage available in sport.
Sport at this level is, after all, a wonderful mix of spectator enjoyment and athletic competition. The best events marry those two elements. Beckham’s strong, positive global image has helped football spread to areas that we could hardly imagine just a few years ago.
Beckham as a McDonald’s poster boy in the US, Beckham modelling in men’s magazines, Beckham as a Hollywood star on par with Tom Cruise, Beckham as an icon in places where surviving on a few pence a day is a miracle.
Beckham embodies Olympic dream
It’s not just his diverse appeal and genuinely refreshing willingness to cross social barriers and articulate socially inclusive messages that made him a must, but his talent and passion for the game.
Beckham, as much as any professional sports star out there, embodies the Olympic dream and it is a travesty that he will not be part of the on field action. Great Britain coach Stuart Pearce has once again shown he is hopelessly out of his depth and has unfortunately lived up to the ‘Psycho’ nickname he so ably sported as an uncompromisingly tough player. His omission of Beckham is ridiculous.
As with his unexplainable decision to appoint Scott Parker as England captain ahead of Steven Gerrard in his one game in charge of the Three Lions, Psycho has lost the plot.
The romance of the Olympics is driven by young athletes who desire to perform at the top level. The desire to be remembered beyond your performances, in the minds of youth around the world, as a champion par excellence.
To omit Beckham is to completely misunderstand the Olympic ideal and in fact the nature and rules of the football tournament.
The Olympic football tournament was dominated for many years by Eastern Europeans, starting in 1952, when the great Hungarian team, including such players as Ferenc Pukas, won the tournament.
Inclusion of mature players enhances attractiveness of Olympics
By the 1984 LA Games, professional players were allowed in and the rules were again changed for Barcelona in 1992 as the Olympics moved into the modern era.
The football tournament is basically an under 23 competition until the finals, when three ‘over age’ players can be added. To improve the marketability, quality and allow for the addition of star names, each football qualifying nation can include three mature players. The very purpose of the additions was to enhance the attractiveness of the tournament.
Beckham has apparently been overlooked in favour of three top quality players. It is no slight on them but he should have been in the GB squad. The great Wales and Manchester United star Ryan Giggs has rightly been selected, joined by Wales former captain and Liverpool forward Craig Bellamy and Manchester City defender Micah Richards.
Yet, even Giggs should not have been selected before Beckham, whose claim on the spot should not have been up for debate. To include Bellamy and Richards at the expense of Beckham is to eschew the entire purpose of the additional selections and turn your back on the greater Olympic ideal. To suggest that such lunacy is acceptable in the name of winning is ugly and unseemly, to put it politely.
Would Psycho not have picked an ageing Pele or Maradona well past their prime? Would he really have preferred a young talented right back in favour of stars that could illuminate the world stage?
Football coaches often learn the hard way that sport is a wonderful blend of entertainment and reality. Forget the need to entertain the watching public and your job is in peril.
Pyscho should never have been placed in the position of leadership he now finds himself and will undoubtedly produce an insipid, lacklustre, unadventurous brand of Olympic football.
At least one thing is assured, Pyscho’s lack of respect for Beckham will define his professional career. He will never recover from his silly, misguided lack of common sense that has ruined Great Britain’s football tournament before it has even started.
Respect a triumph at Euros
Amid all this talk of a lack of respect for Beckham, the Respect campaign at Euro 2012 was a success.
It isn’t a shirt sleeve or hoarding, it’s an arm band or advert. Amid the grave pre-tournament warnings of catastrophe, the reality has been far less challenging. Yes, we’ve seen incidents of racism on and off the field. But as Gazzetta dello Sport’s incredible cartoon of Mario Balotelli pictured as King Kong illustrates, it’s not just the beautiful game that has some work to do when it comes to race relations.
UEFA’s Respect campaign has been one of the most high profile and best sports inclusivity and diversity programmes I can remember. Race has rightly been at the forefront of the campaign but it has stretched far beyond that. The four core areas, RESPECT fan culture, RESPECT diversity, RESPECT your health and RESPECT inclusion have done an excellent job of highlighting critical social issues.
Social projects around the games have included showcase games for disability football at the quarter-finals stage, a major diversity campaign during the semi-finals, street kick diversity programmes in host cities, monitoring at games by Football Against Racism in Europe, fan-friendly spaces, blind, deaf and Cerebral Palsy teams and a host of other exciting activities all based around the main games in key areas.
By Delroy Alexander
Delroy Alexander is the Chairman of the Sacred Sports Foundation, a not for profit charity based in the St. Lucia. He is a seasoned sports administrator and a former Chicago Tribune senior investigative business reporter and a Pulitzer Prize nominee journalist. Founded by former Lincoln City and Macclesfield Town manager Keith Alexander, the Sacred Sports Foundation uses sport to work with disadvantaged Caribbean youth. As well as having partnered with the St. Lucia Football Association, the Foundation recently signed a three year agreement with Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) and secured important grants from UNESCO and the Australian Government among others. In 2013, the Foundation will host a major conference, Sport in Black & White, focusing on actively looking for and implementing game changing solutions. We will be writing regularly on issues of importance to help spark the debate and to be a catalyst for change.