Honours, discrimination and a nasty little slur by an on-the-take athlete no one remembers

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?

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13 Responses to Honours, discrimination and a nasty little slur by an on-the-take athlete no one remembers

  1. The Herald is looking for a cheap story to sell copies. Nothing short of Lord Coe being a mass murderer would change my opinion of him as a true legend. This story means nothing. He knew nothing about the “bung for Billy” & quite frankly, that says more about the character of Ikem Billy for taking a backhander.

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  2. If Coe paid someone to throw a race in his favour then he is an absolute disgrace.

    To ask someone to throw a race to make him look good undermines every aspect of sport. That the man who says he took the money was not as gifted an athlete as Coe, it makes no difference.

    Such shame and dishonour if correct demands that Coe has his titles removed since he is exposed as a cheat and a fraud.

    And do not tell us that the only person who could have headed up the London Olympics was Lord Coe. Such statements are just bilge.

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    • Please read the article properly.. The facts given are perfectly clear. Sebastian Coe had nothing to do with this incident.
      It was the race director, Andy Norman, who is alleged to have paid Ikem Billy $10,000 to make sure he didn’t beat Coe in the race.
      Norman was also Ikem Billy’s agent and was therefore in a position to make such a demand and such an offer.
      As Promotions Director for the British Athletics Federation, Norman wanted to be absolutely certain he could deliver what the crowds had come to see – Coe win his last race in the UK.
      This was not done to benefit Coe but to benefit Norman and the public’s interest in athletics. Norman had no real relationship with Coe in the athletics world.

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  3. Race fixing is a disgrace and it is also illegal as the gambling industry knows to it’s cost.

    That this athlete has said that he was paid a bung by Coe’s agent to allow Coe to win his last race should send a shiver down everyone’s spine.

    Corruption in sport is poison and these allegations relate to a man who was very much the face of the London Olympic Commitee, and a respected athlete before that in the so called Golden Age of British running.

    Knighthoods and honours conferred do not however guarantee decency and honesty as the recent cases of Mr Saville ad others have shown, and it is for this reason that claims such as this that is now being made against a ” national icon” should not be so unswervingly dismissed because of who he is.

    Coe after being a runner, and an outstanding one at that, became a poltician, and one has to say that in the light of these allegations that it seems surprising that he has not issued a statement save for a spokesperson being reported as saying he was not available for comment.

    For the reputation of British sport these allegations cannot be left unchallenged.

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    • How many times…? This is beginning to look like wilful intent to smear Sebastian Coe.
      Norman was the agent of the athlete be bribed – NOT the agent of Sebastian Coe – who had nothing to do with this incident and is more than likely to have won on merit, whatever the acceptor of the bung did.

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      • That doesn’t matter though, the assumption that Coe had no foreknowledge of this is moot – to me the fact that he wasn’t available for comment speaks volumes. I’d have thought a Lord of The Realm (or whatever the full title is) would have something more to say on the subject than nothing!

        “and is more than likely to have won on merit”

        How do you know?

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  4. It has been stressed that the awards are not given purely on number of medals, there are other factors.

    Some of the Paralympians have come out against the person making the fuss, probably won’t do him much good after Rio.

    As much as everyone edmires the Paraolympic athletes, it does seem easier for them to get a large tally of medals than the able bodied athletes. I am not sure if this is because of the bewildering number of categories of their events or because there is less competition. It does seem to make it easier for a Paraolympian to get a large number of medals whereas many able bodied Olympic athletes only get the chance to go for one medal every four years.

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      • It was the number of Olympic athletes who only are able to compete for a single medal that I was referring to. There seem a lot of sports where Paralympians can compete for a much larger number of medals.

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        • Olympian gymnasts are in the same position – competing in each of four disciplines – each with a gold medal available; with an overall gold medal for the best ‘across the board’performance; and then with the same four disciplines in the team competition, which yields another gold for each member of the winning team.
          You also have to think of the complex range of skills the paralympians have to develop. There were swimmers in the London Games with no arms, who swam with beauty, undulating bodies like seals.
          It’s essentially about comparing each performer with their peers – and the UK Paralympic team was fantastically – inspirationally – successful at a level above the recognition they have been awarded.

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