Like everyone else in my home turf of East London, I’ve been watching the Olympic Games obsessively over the last fortnight – and not just because my human leaves the TV on during the day.
The Olympic Games have a lot in common with their more prestigious canine equivalent, Crufts. Many of the similarities are obvious – running along tracks, jumping over things, time trials, relays. We enter Crufts through competitive qualification, and there’s even dog dressage. If that surprises you, remember: the most talented person in Britain, if Simon Cowell is to be believed, is a six-year-old bichon frise called Pudsey.
One less obvious similarity is this: the predominance of the well-off. Do you think the average Crufts dog had the same puppyhood as the majority of Britain’s staffies and rottweilers? No. The world of the Kennel Club, kind of like a Bullingdon for cocker spaniels, is a far cry from that of Battersea. Will any of those orphaned hounds get to chase a Crufts medal? Will any troubled young puppies get the chance to turn their lives around through canine freestyle or dog agility? Only a tiny fraction, who serve to demonstrate the imbalance by the contrast and notability of their presence.
It’s not such a marked difference in your human sports, but there is an injustice nonetheless. Many of Team GB’s new golden collars – which are rather dashing, I have to say – have risen from privilege. Time is one highly sought after commodity, and facilities are another.
With a whopping two hours of mandatory PE each week on the books, I am not sure where future Team GB will obtain their additional recommended two hours per day of training. Could it be that some children will have the good fortune to really test out their skills at local (pricey) athletics clubs, whilst other less fortunate youngsters head straight home from school to help out at home or go to work?
Many medallists hone their athletic skills whilst at university, in elite sports schemes. In the same way that unpaid internships enable the wealthy to gain experience, at the expense of the not-so-wealthy, the amount of time required to be a top university athlete restricts the opportunity only to those youngsters who do not need to work to support their education.
Yes, there are indeed sports scholarships. However who is likely to obtain such an award? The student who was able to spend their youth at the tennis or running club? Or the kid whose PE classes were delivered by an enthusiastic, but inexperienced Math teacher willing to volunteer their free time? Once again, the playing field is tipped in favour of those who have already had the luck.
Facilities are also a rather large divider between the classes. For example, the standard comprehensive school along the street may use their minimal PE time to run the kiddies up and down a room the size of my garden, whereas those pampered poodles over at Eton get to paddle around in Olympic sized swimming pools and row along Eton Dorney for their recreation.
British Cycling’s director David Brailsford famously chalked up Team GB’s cycling success to the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’. In that spirit, I blame the wealth imbalance on the ‘continued aggregation of marginal disadvantage’. No facilities in your local primary? Ten-second penalty. No money to go to the local track after school? Start ten meters back. Can’t compete at university since you have a shift in the bar? Five minutes in the sin bin.
Not lucky enough to be funded and supported from your first steps, through to the podium?
But what do I know, I’m a dog.