The Beckham (Olympic) Legacy
As the warm glow of the Olympic Games continues to pulse and talk of capturing that fuzzy feeling on a more permanent basis buzzes around politicians and media, something about all this has started to bother me: David Beckham.
I confess I love David Beckham. I didn't always. Like millions of other football fans I remember cursing the guy for his petulance at the 1998 World Cup match against Argentina and swearing I'd never forgive him. It wasn't so much that he got sent off as the fact that it was against the team that inflicted such misery 12 years earlier when Maradona invoked the 'hand of God' in order to score the winning goal. It still hurt and Beckham's red card for kicking out at Diego Simeone just rubbed salt in the wound.
What surprised everyone, though, was the way in which Beckham handled himself in the aftermath. Instead of trying to make excuses, he kept his head down and let his football do the talking. Within a few short months, many of us had fallen in love with him all over again. No matter who you supported, or more precisely how much you despised Manchester United, the one thing many football fans could agree on was that Goldenballs, as he would eventually become known, was generally an all-round good bloke and a demon with a free kick.
So I don't think anyone was terribly surprised when Beckham began to play an increasingly important role for London 2012 - he was part of the delegation in Singapore when London's successful bid was announced back in 2005. And as an East London boy with a global fan base and an unwavering passion for sport, he was an ideal candidate to become a London 2012 international ambassador.
A lot of us also thought he was a shoe-in for the Team GB football squad, not simply because of this role, but as a mark of respect for his incredible career - he's made 115 appearances for England. He's certainly not the fastest player out there and not always the greatest, but on the evidence of previous World Cup campaigns, the bloke plays his socks off. He also draws a crowd like no other footballer I can think of. The London 2012 motto is 'inspire a generation' and I'm in no doubt that Beckham is one of those great athletes who has every right claim to have done just that.
When the news came that Stuart Pearce had not selected him as one of the 'over-age' players that you're allowed to have in your Olympic squad, Beckham pulled out the trademark humility saying, "Naturally I am very disappointed, but there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me. I would have been honoured to have been part of this unique Team GB squad. Like everyone, I will be hoping they can win the gold."
Lord Coe read the national mood and quickly began hinting at a spot in the Opening Ceremony. And I confess, as Beckham came tripping down the Thames, giving Daniel Craig a run for his money as 'Bond on a boat', I, along with the rest of the merry crowd in our local alehouse, raised a cheer.
The irony of course is the football team came nowhere near winning gold, losing to South Korea on penalties on the same night that Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah were all busy rewriting British sporting history. It's hard to say whether Beckham would have made that much of a difference but it was an interesting moment that for a nation obsessed with the 'beautiful game', barely an eyelid was bat at the team's exit.
The man is a sporting legend and well on his way to reaching that peculiar British status known as 'national treasure', alongside the likes of Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley. But here's the thing - David Beckham is currently appearing in Sainsbury's advert as a Paralympic ambassador. He's not the only athlete in the ad - it also stars a series of British Paralympic hopefuls including cyclist Jon-Allan Butterworth, basketball players Helen Turner and Claire Strange and swimmer Ellie Simmonds - and he's only in it for a few seconds at the end to tell us that Sainsbury's is proud sponsors of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. He's also a face of the supermarket's Active Kids campaign, along with Ellie Simmonds.
Beckham could probably sell coals to Newcastle such is his brand value and Sainsbury's knows this. I'm sure they're thinking someone of Beckham's star quality will inspire more people to watch the Paralympics and get involved in sport - be they able-bodied or otherwise.
But the fact that we have to rely on an able-bodied athlete to tell us how brilliant our Paralympic athletes are, how awe-inspiring their tales of adversity and courage, sticks in my throat. I'd much rather hear that straight from the horse's mouth. Simmonds appears in the ad and on the Sainsbury's website, but her image sits below Beckham's and she has no speaking role in the ad.
I'm proud of the fact that London is hosting the Games this year and I'm genuinely excited that Paralympic tickets might sell out for the first time in their 52-year history. Sport is sport and it's exciting to watch no matter the back story. And there is something very special about the way the Olympics and Paralympics are reigniting this nation's passion for sport beyond 11 men running around on a football pitch.
I'm in no doubt that Beckham's career has earned him the right to be a part of our collective warm glow and he has more credentials than most to be encouraging the Great British Public to get out there and get active, but I just can't get rid of the nagging feeling that we shouldn't always have to take an able-bodied athlete's word for it.
Thank you to Sinéad Keegan and her fab blog Finding Home for originally posting this and for the headline!