x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UK's Olympics success an example for others to invest in sport

Such Olympic success requires a group of talented athletes, but it also needs a performance programme that extends from schools upwards and, most importantly, is underpinned by world-class facilities.

Sebastian Coe is that rarest of sporting heroes. Few ever fly as high as the double-Olympic gold medal winner once did during a glittering career as a middle-distance runner, even fewer manage to surpass those achievements in the years after hanging up their spikes. But by delivering the unquestionable triumph that has so far been London 2012, Lord Coe may well have trumped anything he battled so hard to achieve in Moscow and Los Angeles.

Ever the consummate performer, Coe will no doubt tell the world that he is nothing without the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog), which has so ably supported him or, indeed, the amazing group of British athletes who have done so much to light up this sporting festival.

He would probably say that Locog's work is only half done, that there is still the Paralympic Games to come. He might also do well to give the gentlest of nods to two gentlemen who did much to make Britain believe it could actually pull this thing off in the first place.

Those two men are Graham Stringer and Sir Bob Scott.

Now it would be wrong to overstep the mark here but both occupy at least some small corner of the incredible story that has unfolded at London 2012.

Stringer, as leader of Manchester City Council, and Scott, as a kind of late 20th-century visionary, led the doomed Manchester Olympic Bid Committee that pitched for the 1996 and 2000 Games. Both bids ended in defeat. In fact, neither tilt at glory gathered anywhere close to the number of International Olympic Committee votes required to win - that honour fell to Atlanta and Sydney respectively - but they did make the world take note that Manchester was ambitious at a time when the city was a far less confident place than it is today.

That ambition, which was later rewarded with the 2002 Commonwealth Games, also ensured that a world-class velodrome was built in the city and probably helped harden London's own resolve to bid for the games to return to British shores.

The opening in 1994 of the Manchester Velodrome (since renamed the National Cycling Centre) undoubtedly also helped usher in a golden era in a sport that began delivering Olympic medals to Team GB at the Sydney Games. It has not stopped since. In total, the 2012 cycling team has secured seven gold medals, one silver and one bronze on the Siberian pine race track inside London's own award-winning Olympic Velodrome, affectionately known as the Pringle.

The cycling team did much, together with the equally successful rowing programme, to establish the upbeat tone that has pushed British athletes on to such great heights at this summer's Games. For that achievement Scott and Stringer must be owed at least some small crumb of gratitude. Without them there would not have been a Manchester bid and without those bids there would not have been a National Cycling Centre.

Of course, such Olympic success requires a group of talented athletes but it also needs a performance programme that extends from schools upwards and, most importantly, is underpinned by world-class facilities.

This, perhaps, is where the UAE might take note.

Team GB's approach proves that almost anything is possible if the proper conditions are put in place and the right talent is able to bubble to the surface and yet, only 20 years ago, cycling was a near dormant sport in the UK.

By contrast, the UAE has a growing community of pedal pushers - witness the crowds at Yas Marina Circuit on a Tuesday night or the numbers on the start line of any of the nation's growing number of triathlon races. Imagine how that community might be transformed by the availability of a velodrome on its doorstep? One can only dare to dream about such facilities, but Great Britain's success this summer offers a path for other nations to follow, and that route is paved with gold.