Medal News

Volume 46, Number 8, September 2008

The General awards make history

Volume 46, Number 8, September 2008

What's in a name? AS I’m writing this, in late summer 2008, the newspapers, television, internet, etc., are full of stories of medals and heroes. However, they are neither the medals, nor the heroes that we are perhaps used to. Unless you have been on Mars or on a retreat somewhere with no media access, you will know that for the latter part of August much of the World’s attention has been focused on Beijing and China’s Olympics and it is Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals and not Conspicuous Gallantry Crosses or MCs that take up much of the column inches, and the “heroes” that we’re hearing about aren’t service men and women risking their lives every day in Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather the British Athletes, or “Team GB” as they’ve been styled. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m exceptionally proud of our athletes—they have done unbelievably well this year and even the usual cynics and doomsayers can’t deny that 19 golds and a total of 47 medals, our best haul for a century, is pretty good going. We were fourth in the overall medal table, beaten only by much, much larger countries with populations many times ours from which to pick their best medal hopes. We even managed to successfully beat all our various “main” sporting rivals (and you know who you are . . . !) just about every time we came up against them—not bad for a country that is used to coming valiantly down the order and putting a brave face on sporting defeat. The wave of optimism and National pride that has followed the Olympic success has been a welcome break from the grey, dull weather and the constant bad news about the economy and there’s no denying that we finally have something to smile about. But I can’t help thinking that maybe we’re over egging the pudding slightly. As we go to press the Government has already announced that the Olympians will be rewarded for their endeavours via the Honours system and a raft of OBEs, MBEs even Knighthoods are sure to be on the cards. Now it’s not that I don’t think that our athletes are deserving of such accolades, they have worked tirelessly to be at the top of their game, sacrificed much with a single minded determinism to be the absolute best they can be and they have done themselves, and the country they represent proud—especially as with the 2012 Olympics being held in London a paucity of medals this time around would have been an acute embarrassment. But let’s face it, when it comes to true sacrifice their’s is not really the stuff of heroics is it? I don’t doubt that many of them have put their entire lives on hold to get to where they are. Their home lives, social lives, even careers have, I’m sure, suffered in their pursuit of the Olympic dream and for that they have been rewarded with medals and the promise of further honours to come, but to fête them as heroes in the way they seem to have been is, I feel, to miss the point of what a true hero actually is. You know what I’m going to say: that the men and women whose medals we are the current custodians of are, in my eyes, far more worthy of the epithet “hero” than any sportsman or woman, whether medal winner or not. You know that every day in Iraq and Afghanistan there are those risking their lives and getting no recognition in the eyes of the public, let alone the honours system; you know that every day the uniformed services at home put themselves in harm’s way in order to help others and yet frequently seem to receive more criticism than praise. True, some do receive medals in recognition of their sacrifice, just as the Olympians do, but just as frequently they are overlooked and certainly it is a rare thing for a Gallantry award to a Private or a PC to be backed up by a New Year’s honour. Of course, I must add that I have yet to hear any of the successful athletes refer to themselves as heroes. They all seem typically British in their modesty—the label has come very much from the press and it is the press that seems to be putting them on a pedestal upon which most look quite uncomfortable. Unfortunately though, in this age of celebrity and spin, in the age where what, and who, is seen on television is all the public seem to think about, that pedestal is all that is stared at and the true heroes are often forgotten, swept aside by the cult of fame. Of course, I do not want to take anything away from the success of the Olympians, they have managed to achieve far more than the vast majority of us could ever hope to, but I do wish that just occasionally we as a nation, and more importantly our media, could treat the real heroes in the same way, and with the same honour.

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