Saturday, February 03, 2007

Nobody Drowned

Politically correct PE teachers who hate competitions are killing school sport. Rubbish! I’ve never met any of them, my own experience has been exactly the opposite, PE teachers who could have auditioned for Brian Glover’s role in ‘Kes’ nearly put me off sport for life. Our local swimming gala confirmed that this species, far from being extinct, is multiplying and thriving in a school near you.

In a bygone era sports stars were genuine role models. My all-time hero was Muhammad Ali, he gave up the world boxing title because he wouldn’t be drafted into the army, ‘No Vietcong ever called me nigger’. In the excellent film ‘When We Were Kings’ after he beats George Foreman in ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ he dedicates his victory to the homeless, the drug addicts and prostitutes. Sporting heroine? Billy Jean King risked her career by fighting for equal prize money for women and set up the breakaway Virginia Slims tournament, she thrashed MCP Bobby Riggs who had derided women tennis players and at a later stage she ‘came out’ as a lesbian.

Today narcissistic millionaire drug-cheats live isolated in their gated mansions miles away from every day reality. There’s also the way that the media present sport with their overblown hyperbole. I wince every time I read the words ‘heroic’ or ‘courageous’. A firefighter rescuing a child from a burning house? Maybe that fits the bill, not a player scoring a winning goal. A few years ago Boris Becker lost an important match at Wimbledon just to prove the hacks lack of any sense of proportion they were describing it as a ‘disaster’ and using that catch all question ‘How does it feel?’ Eventually in exasperation he shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Nobody died out there!”

Our head was keen for the school to participate in the swimming gala so we had two weeks at the baths to practise. Assembling a team was fairly easy, we picked anyone that could swim a length. Every year our Year 3s start lessons with a large proportion of them never having so much as dipped a toe in a swimming pool.

I’ve got bad memories of the last gala we went to four years ago, our swimmers were struggling to finish and already the next race was being started. The large sports mad primary school came 1st, 2nd and 3rd in every race and scooped up all the trophies.

The Council’s Sports Development Team were ‘organising’ this gala and I use that word pejoratively and in the loosest possible sense. Despite a whole team of people with stop watches no one had thought to book a PA system, a large echoing swimming pool, hundreds of children screaming at the top of their voices – Hello! Chaos ensued we couldn’t hear a thing.

I gazed open-mouthed at the practise session a lithe young lad with swim cap, sleek goggles and one of those expensive swim suits, dived in, glided half the length of the pool and then cut through the water with the speed of a barracuda.

When the races began we had the emergence of ‘Competitive PE Teacher’ – running up and down the side of the pool screaming at his children and bawling out those who lost with the full Alex Ferguson hair dryer treatment. It was one of those rare occasions when I wanted to inflict physical damage on a member of the human race. Maybe I should have nudged him into the pool, I’d have a ready-made excuse, whenever our children hit anyone it is always “by accident”.

Our children dutifully clapped in the last swimmers. Shy Sidney from Year 3 tried his best, but Mouthy Melvin bottled out, it’s usually the quiet ones who don’t wilt under pressure. Sheila, bless her, reassured everyone that, “it’s taking part that counts”. Somehow our involvement was on a par with ‘Eric the Eel’ Moussambani the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who achieved worldwide fame after finishing in the slowest time ever recorded in the Men's 100m Freestyle finals at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Moussambani had never seen a 50m pool before the competition. Laura began to throw up because she wouldn’t drink the water provided. We had a snowball in hell’s chance of winning any trophies so I passed on the humiliation of the relay and we crept out to get changed.

Arriving back ot school the head came out of his office, ‘How did we do?’

‘Nobody drowned’.

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