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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
How do Brits keep a stiff upper lip?
Mike Atherton, Tim Henman and The British Lions
It's not the winning...
The weekend saw crushing defeats for British sports stars on court, wicket and pitch. Is there any excuse for our poor performance, asks BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley.

In the space of a single day, British sporting prowess suffered three crushing blows.

Tiger Tim Henman finally fell to wild card Wimbledon entrant Goran Invanisevic; England's cricket team crumbled in The Ashes opener against Australia; while the British Lions rugby team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against the Wallabies.

That the British are no strangers to the proverbial long walk back to the pavillion has made us the undefeated world champions at rationalising ignominious defeats.

But do the many oft repeated excuses for not stocking the national trophy cupboard really hold water?

We really don't spend enough money on sport?

The gate receipts at Wimbledon net the Lawn Tennis Association 30m every year, making the UK one of the richest tennis nations.

Arvind Parmer (front) and Tim Henman playing Ecuador in the Davis Cup
"What's this green stuff called again?"
When did we last have a men's singles champion? When you could get a bag of chips with 30m and still have change to buy Western Europe.

Last year Britain's Davis Cup team was left smarting from defeat, and relegation, at the hands of [sharp inhalation] Ecuador.

The cash-strapped South American nation delivered this stinging blow despite boasting only one grass court of its own.

We don't have good enough weather for sports?

True, British tennis players are more used to hearing the swish of the rain covers, than seeing the shimmer of sunshine off championship silverware.

Snow storm
"Ref! Get the orange ball out!"
Kevin Mousley, co-author of Football Confidential, says abysmal weather only spurs on some nations.

"In Scandinavia, the weather means they can't sustain a fully professional football league. They got tired of being thumped by foreign sides, so the coaches decided to put the time they did have to better use."

Retreating indoors, the Nordic teams became the experts at applying sports science from a range of disciplines to football, says Mr Mousley.

We haven't got a big enough pool of talent, have we?

Check the maths. With 82 million people Germany has an Olympic-sized swimming pool of sporting talent. England's 47 million population (not counting the 9 million Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish) is a municipal baths - No diving, No petting - in comparison.
England fans during Euro 2000
"Eight more and we'll play five-a-side."

In which case, tiny republic San Marino (pop. 26,800) is a puddle. Though that didn't stop the national football team putting one past England in the run-up to World Cup 1994.

However, countries like rocky, isolated Iceland (pop. 280,000, similar to that of Luton) throw a spanner in the works.

Despite living in a place where it's dark 20 hours of the day in winter and national football team successes (or grass pitches) are almost unknown, Icelandic players are highly prized in Europe.

Admired for their spirit and strength, at least 22 islanders have been snapped up by British teams, with scouts hunting out many more among the hot springs.

Although every UK pub seems to boast at least one Aussie behind the bar, Australia - the cause of two of the weekend's defeats - has a mere 19 million inhabitants rattling around a land mass 33 times larger than the UK.

To put that figure in context, 19 million is not much more than the number of Britons who tuned in to watch Scott and Charlene get hitched on Neighbours in 1988.

It's not the winning, it's playing the game, isn't it?

Kevin Mousley says the UK suffers from "schizophrenia" when it comes to competitive sports.
Children play football
"Tell you about my childhood, Doctor?"

We yearn for the "gentlemanly" non-professional traditions of our sports, then get thoroughly miffed when business-like foreigners make us look like amateurs.

Sports psychologist Dr Sandy Wolfson says Britons don't lack the competitive edge, they just don't know how to make the most of it.

"There's a stigma in the UK against turning to sports psychology. People think they'll be sat on a couch and made to recount their childhood."

Ms Wolfson has, discretely, worked with a number of top footballers, helping them to improve their "alertness and vigilance during a long game".

It's the fault of the parents?

The excesses of tennis relatives like Mary Pierce's dad, Jim, and boisterous Damir Dokic, father of Jelena, are now legend.
Tiger Woods at the 1999 Open at Carnoustie
Tiger Woods doesn't lack encouragement

Even Tiger Woods' stupendous golfing success is often traced to Earl Woods' plan to "manufacture" a champion. Tiger was given a putter six months after he was born.

Dr Sandy Wolfson says British parents lack none of this ambition for their offspring.

"Children have footballs placed at their feet almost before they can walk."

Ms Wolfson says a system to hunt out and groom talent may be lacking, particularly in schools.

"There are all kinds of really good players and athletes. It might be that we're not very good at spotting that talent and encouraging it."

Can't we just be happy we gave sports like football, rugby, golf and cricket to the world?

It's always embarrassing to be beaten at a game you've invented. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the Americans' book.
American football
Cross the line of scrimage, hop twice, pass Go, do not collect 200

With American football and baseball, the US has games at which it can be a world beater, largely because the rest of the world can't fathom the rules or be bothered to spend a whole day playing by them.

The English had a go with cricket, but made the fatal error of putting pitches everywhere they visited (or, more properly, colonised).

The answer? Run the Cricket World Cup along the lines of baseball's World Series and keep almost every other half-decent country out.


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See also:

08 Jul 01 | Funny Old Game
The worst weekend ever?
26 Jun 00 | Wimbledon2000
Money can't buy success
30 Jun 00 | UK
The racket parents make
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