The New Year’s Honours List came out yesterday – rightly, in this inspirational Olympic year, headlined by our athletes.
A notable absence was Danny Boyle, who directed the opening ceremony for the Games – and who did not appear in the list because he had refused a knighthood. He sees himself as one of the rest of us and does not wish to be regarded as anything else. This too is inspirational.
Bradley Wiggins, cyclist and personality of the year, did accept a knighthood. He could do little else having said, straightfaced, as he lay back in conscious irony on a supersized gilt throne after winning the Olympic Gold in the time trial, ‘Sir Wiggo would be nice’.
But Wiggins has just hammered a substantial nail in the coffin of the honours system by saying in televised interviews last night that he would only be using the title ‘in a comedy way’. We may yet have even more to thank Bradley Wiggins for delivering.
However, for as long as we have an honours system it is important that the right people get them and that they get the right level of honour in recognition of their acheivements.
Can anyone explain why the able bodied Kelly Holmes was made a Dame on the strength of two gold medals from one Games while:
- the supreme Paralympian of 2012, wheelchair racer David Weir – with six gold medals to his credit from two Games and having won the London Marathon no fewer than six times – was given a CBE;
- and Lee Pearson, the Paralympian dressage rider who has ten Olympic gold medals from four Games – Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London, six world-championship and three European titles – was given an OBE.
The only Paralympian to be honoured at the level of a knighthood/damehood is swimmer/cyclist Sarah Storey, whose record is probably unmatchable – with eleven gold medals in her two sports from six Games starting in Barcelona in 1992.
It can be argued – powerfully – that the most substantial impact of an unforgettable Games year in London 2012 was the Paralympics – with a sell out of tickets, huge television audiences and attitudes to disability radically changed by the experience.
The people of Britain expected the achievements of these athletes to be recognised on merit in the honours system – as they themselves had done in their responses to the performances – and not on what was clearly a much more demanding scale than that applied to the able bodied athletes.
The people are, as will be the paralympian’s themselves, disappointed and disillusioned with the government that has perpetuated a discrimination we should have had no need to be ashamed of yet again.
The unpleasant footnote is an Exclusive in today’s Sunday Herald with a forgotten run of the mill international British athlete, Ikem Billy, claiming that, in September 1989, he accepted $10,000 from the British Athletics Federation’s then Promotions Director, Andy Norman – to let Sebastian Coe win his last race in Britain.
Sebastian Coe was a superb athlete in what was the UK’s modern golden age of track athletics.
He was yesterday made Companion of Honour in recognition of the unbelievable job he did in creating the thrilling triumph of London’s Olympic and Paralympic Games – on budget and on time.
No one else could have done this job – because no one else had the personal portfolio Coe has of a career at the top of his sport and in its administration, alongside supreme management, leadership and diplomatic skills and, as a former MP, whatever political contacts he needed.
This is a man who has graced Britain both on the track and in corporate leadership in delivering achievements whose challenges and significance few can even grasp.
Who remembers Ikem Billy? Who cares that he had taken a bribe 23 years ago from an official, now dead but widely accepted in his career to be the master of the highly dodgy, to ‘let’ Coe win a race he could have won anyway. Ikem claims Coe was out of shape and Norman feared Ikem might beat him. But who knows. This was Coe’s last race and he could always pull something out of the bag when he needed it.
Coe will have known nothing of what Andy Norman probably did and of what Ikem admits taking an illegal payment to ensure.
This piece today can only attempt to smear the record of a man who was no part of the scam and who has given Britain back a long absent sense of its worth and its capability.
This is an occasion when The Herald might question the soundness of its editorial judgment. Who was to be shamed in this and what was to be gained?