Are we a nation of sporting losers?
Sunday 28 October, 10.00am until 10.45am, Seminar Space Breakfast Banter

England’s 1966 World Cup triumph is still a rare beacon of sporting success. Over 40 years of hurt later, a repeat of this famous victory looks as far off as ever. It is now embedded in the nation’s footballing psyche that penalty shoot-out failure is our fate. Does it need to be like this? How do Brazil, Italy or Germany consistently manage to achieve at international football, whilst England are perennial quarter-finalists?

In other sports things are not much better. There are rare moments of excellence. The 2003 Rugby World Cup victory, great athletes such as Steve Redgrave and crew, Daley Thompson and Seb Coe. These seem like rare moments of light in a history of defeat, failure and tales of what might have been. England is said to be the home of cricket but are yet to win the Cricket World Cup, and tennis, well let’s not even go there. Scots seem happier wallowing in the failure of England’s finest than celebrating the achievements of Scotland’s own perennial also-rans.

Are we just a small island nation in Northern Europe which expects too much from its sportsmen? Or might there be a special ingredient to take us to the next level of achievement? How does the Brazilian football team or Australian cricket team consistently manage to perform at a higher level than their opponents? Can British teams ever expect to emulate this standard?

Does it matter if the greatest runners are Ethiopian or the greatest swimmers are Australian? Should we just put aside our parochialism and celebrate the greatest sportsmen wherever they are from?


Matthew Syed
former Olympian; columnist, The Times; author, Bounce: how champions are made
Duleep Allirajah
sports columnist, spiked; Crystal Palace fan
Richard Beard
novelist and sports writer; author, How to Beat the Australians
Tim Rice
assistant comment editor, The Times
Geoff Kidder
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters

 Produced by

Dr Tim Black editor, Spiked Review
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters

Is Britain a nation of sporting losers?, Richard Beard

 Recommended readings

The art of coming second
Glorious failure seems to be something the British are quite willing to embrace. No wonder we produce sportsmen who lack the mentality to win
Tom Geoghegan, BBC News, 21 October 2007

After this disaster the team should be helicoptered out
A post-mortem on England's collapse during the 2006 Ashes series
Simon Barnes, The Times, 8 December 2006

Why can't Britain produce tennis players to compete at the top level?
Having not produced a male Wimbledon singles champion since Fred Perry, is British tennis simply too middle class, are the players too unfit, or are the training methods inadequate?
Paul Newman, Independent, 27 June 2007

recommended by spiked

Wimbledon: a festival of self-flagellation
Duleep Allirajah, 12 July 2007

We want to win, but we expect to lose
Duleep Allirajah, 30 November 2006

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