I confess that I have had taken a little more pleasure in the Olympics than I predicted -- although I still admire the achievements more than I want actually to watch them. But I have become more interested, once again, in the background of these elite athetes. Who are they? Where do they come from -- and how?
I decided to have a look, not entirely at random, at the Olympic squad of 19, including reserves, that gave us our gold medal winning women's hockey team. Let me underline that I am not knocking these young women who have trained and practised beyond what most people could contemplate and -- as a quick google will turn up -- have obviously done a load of outreach events at schools and clubs, spreading the word about sport. Hats off to them.
But their background (again I am relying on google here) is not exactly ordinary. Out of the 19, I reckon that 10 went to independent school (and 3 to one independent school alone, that is Repton). 11 read Sports Sciences at university. Only one (a woman of Asian origin who, for what it's worth, went to an independent school) seems anything other than white British. Several have a family background in sport. The excellent captain is not only married to another team member, but her mother is a sports academic, her sister a professional hockey player in Holland, married to a Dutch male hockey international.
I dont know exactly what I feel about this. I can see only too well that people in the same field get together and breed more like themselves: doctors marry doctors; I am married to an academic, and both my children have done (or are doing) PhDs. And I am not sure what I think about what we should do about the class bias in sport. Hockey I guess lies somewhere in the middle, between boxing and dressage (which you can hardly get into early unless Mum and Dad can buy you a pony). Maybe it would be a good idea if a wider range of people took up sticks. But I'm not sure that I want polo players doing outreach to their local primary schools -- or for that matter the upper middle class taking over boxing. To put it another way, I think that the micro cultures of sport are more complicated than they look.
But I do feel irritated at the double standard that operates between elite sport and elite education. I have no doubt that we all in this country have a lot more to do to make educational opportunities fairer (in terms of class, wealth, ethnicity etc etc ). But elite universities get an awful lot more stick than elite sports when it comes to access. The record of my own university on access and diversity is rather better (and we are trying even harder) than that of the UK womens' hockey squad and we win just as many prizes and medals.
It's odd that we get lambasted for lack of diversity when they dont.