The City must aspire to the Olympian ethos of competitive sportsmanship

NOW THAT the Olympic Flame is in London – having made a dramatic aerial entrance last Friday, courtesy of the Royal Marines – this is the capital’s moment to shine.

The weather forecasters are doing their bit by suggesting we’ll continue to bask in glorious sunshine, and boroughs across London are putting finishing touches to preparations for this summer of celebration.

I, for one, am incredibly honoured to be welcoming the Torch Relay into the City this Thursday, alongside the many thousands of people expected to line the route.

The Torch Relay has brought together communities by showcasing and strengthening connections across the UK. That became clear to me on a business visit to Sheffield and Bradford just this weekend.

There is a genuine swell of excitement across the country, not just London, as we approach the start-line after years of preparation. The next six weeks provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to sell the best of what we have to offer to a truly international audience.

The City remains a key part of that story. Recent events in the banking sector do not represent the ethos and commitment of the 300,000 people who work in the City of London, nor the near 2m who work in financial and related services across the UK.

These ordinary men and women are the cornerstone of a world leading global financial centre. They go about their work with professionalism and integrity, whether in retail banking, insurance, accounting or the law – or the whole cluster of services provided by the industry as a whole.

Of course, we need, and I welcome, a sensible debate about improving the culture in financial services.

And as part of this debate, there are lessons we can take from Olympic history. The Games have featured a plethora of remarkable sporting feats embodying the official motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius, or “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. But some of the greatest moments – from Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics to Muhammad Ali at Atlanta – transcend sports to capture the very best of the human spirit.

As a keen sportsman, one of my favourite stories is that of Lawrence Lemieux, a Canadian competing in the Finn class sailing in the 1988 Games in Seoul. Lemieux was in second place when he saw two sailors from the Singaporean team in another race fall into the water during exceptionally choppy conditions. He sacrificed his position to rescue the injured sailors, hauling them into his small boat.

The International Olympics Committee recognised his act with an honorary second-place finish. Its president Juan Antonio Samaranch hailed him: “By your sportsmanship, self-sacrifice and courage, you embody all that is right with the Olympic ideal.”

That is an ethos we should all aspire to: not just competing but competing with true sportsmanship, not just following the rules but more importantly the spirit of the rules. This is an approach all who work the City should wholeheartedly endorse.

David Wootton is Lord Mayor of the City of London.