After Team GB’s exceptionally successful Olympic Games in London 2012, a report was published stating that over a third of its medal winners were privately educated.
The research, published by the Sutton Trust, kicked off a round of that age-old and forever-popular British sport of moaning. Team GB’s success, while celebrated by the vast majority of Brits, was nonetheless labelled elitist in certain corners, provoking a predictable spell of hand-wringing.
This time around, our athletes have heroically surpassed the achievements of four years ago – the only time in modern Olympic history that a country has increased its medal tally in a Games immediately after the one it has hosted.
We wait to see if similar complaints arise regarding the socio-economic backgrounds of Team GB’s stars, but a tally at the end of last week appeared to show a decline in the proportion of privately-educated medalists – to below 30 per cent, down from the 36 per cent reported in 2012 by the Sutton Trust.
And even if the number still appears high, one should beware reading too much into it. For a start, many youngsters gain scholarships at private schools due to their athletic talent. Gold-medalist Helen Glover is one such example. Iconic diver Tom Daley is another. Swimmer James Guy also, as a teenager, earned a place at an independent school thanks to his abilities and determination – more silver medal than silver spoon.
Historically Britain has done well at events practiced at elite schools and universities (such as rowing) but that reliance is diminishing. Look at our new band of heroes – Laura Trott, Mo Farah, Jason Kenny (all of whom attended comprehensives, incidentally) – and you see people from a range of backgrounds, representing all corners of the country.
Well-targeted sports funding has revolutionised British performance at the Games, and now inspires children from every part of the UK. It also reminds us of the benefits of allowing youngsters to compete, and to experience the satisfaction of excelling through hard work and dedication. All of our schools could learn a lesson therein.