Did you watch any of the Olympics? I did. Possibly more than was healthy but at least it is only once every four years. I loved watching so many people all trying their hardest to achieve their dreams. I empathised, cheered, sympathised and celebrated. Though I watched mostly on my own it didn’t stop me from expressing my excitement at performances such as Andy Murray’s gold, Mo Farah’s double double or the Brownlee brother’s destruction of the rest of the triathlon field. The main thing that surprised me, however, was that I wasn’t that surprised. I admit that I did not expect the UK to come second overall in the medal table but I wasn’t surprised that we did well.
I remember back to Olympic Games from my youth when all Britain’s Olympians could manage were a few medals every four years with the occasional outstanding performance from the likes of Seb Coe, Daley Thompson, Mary Peters or someone else now almost forgotten. There is no doubt that our expectation has changed.
Even twenty years ago, the image of British sport was that of the enthusiastic amateur. The keen but not too serious individual who would pit themselves against all-comers in the hope that they might succeed but with little expectation that they would. This was true also of teams which is why team medals were also as rare as hen’s teeth.
So what has changed? How did British sporting success move from being hardly an also ran to an odds on favourite? Since the close of the Rio games there has been quite a bit of reporting regarding this and there seems to be agreement on three key factors. Whilst we should be careful about drawing direct parallels between the success of Britain’s Olympic sports and the development of the Kingdom of God, I think that there are some useful observations that we can make.
Firstly, an observation about resources. In 1996 the decision was taken to use lottery funding to support Olympic sportsmen and women. This meant that they could devote their time and energy to the business of becoming great athletes rather than fitting it into their spare time. Secondly there is the coaching factor. Some of the money was used to recruit and train the world’s best coaches as well as experts from other, related fields and the dividend from that has been shown in the results. Thirdly, the training methods used to enable athletes to perform consistently at such high levels have also changed beyond recognition and this has also been key in the changing culture.
The upshot is that everyone’s expectations of success have increased dramatically. Success in any arena follows commitment and sacrifice but it also tends to breed more success. So now athletes, coaches, supporters and opponents consistently expect the highest standards and get them.
How does this relate to the things that we dream of in God’s Kingdom? How do we rate our ‘success’? How much does it depend on us and how much is the ‘sovereign’ activity of God? How do we make our resources available? Do we search for and invest in the best ‘coaches’, if indeed that is the right question? What about our methods, are we still relying on the same things that have brought the results of the past or are we reviewing and developing our methods according to the right directives from Heaven?
I’m not suggesting that the Olympics hold the answers to the dreams of the Church but I am suggesting that we look at what is happening around us and understand it correctly to see what we can learn from it. Anyone fancy going for gold?