August 3rd, 1912

Fri, Aug 3, 2012, 01:00

FROM THE ARCHIVES:The Irish Times was alarmed by the poor performance of British athletes at the 1912 Olympics, expressing a turn-of-the- century establishment fear that England’s manhood – and, therefore, its military prowess – was losing out to others, especially Germany. - JOE JOYCE

The athletic world of Great Britain is wallowing just now in a truly British mood of self-depreciation. It has been abased by England’s sorry exhibition at the Olympic Games at Stockholm. Until a quite recent date, the United Kingdom led the world in all forms of sport, including athletics. In some of these sports other countries are now creeping up . . .

The real débacle has come in the field of athletics. Our best athletes were “wiped out” at Stockholm. The total marking of all the events of the meeting put Sweden first with 133 points and the United States second with 129 points. Great Britain, once supreme, was a very bad third with 76 points. The thing came as a heavy blow to the national vanity and the feeling is intensified by the prospect of still greater humiliation.

Four years hence the Olympic Games will be held at Berlin. Are the scornful Germans, our keenest rivals in all the pursuits that make a nation, to witness the dissolution of the last shreds of the tradition of British superiority? . . .

If we must spend money, let us spend it – and plenty of it – on the levelling up of the physical capacity of the nation as a whole. We noticed in a recently published will a considerable legacy to the Boy Scouts. That money will be far better spent than if it were devoted to training a hundred men’s legs for the last critical sprint in the quarter mile. Our athletes who go to Germany in 1916 will bring home at least one useful lesson.

In all probability, the Germans will not be first in the Olympic Games. They can afford to be last without a qualm, for every one of their adult citizens is to-day a source of envy to all thoughtful Englishmen. Germany is a nation of straight-backed, disciplined, efficient men. Every one of them has the self-respect which comes from bodily training . . .

The English democracy grows up – or grows down – careless and unregarded. It finds its pleasure and its exercise in watching games which the influence of its million eyes has corrupted. There is no more tragic picture for an intelligent Englishman than one of those huge double-page photographs of a crowd at a Cup match. You see there one hundred thousand faces of men who play no games, cherish no definite idea of patriotism, have never held a rifle in their hands.

We see in many quarters attempts to instil the German idea of patriotism and discipline. Boys’ Brigades, the Boy Scouts, the public school corps, are all striving towards a higher ideal. But these efforts will never solve the problem which must be solved if England is to keep her place among the nations.

Viscount Haldane’s Territorial system [volunteer army reserve] has not solved it; the canker has gone too far. The only remedy is Germany’s remedy – universal military service.