Sunday, 14 October 2007

A British Sporting Renaissance?

Last year the sheer mediocrity of British sport was highlighted by the BBC Sport Personality of the Year programme. What should usually be a celebration and reflection of the year's sporting achievements was an unwelcome reminder of the lack of achievement in 2006. But one year on, we are on the eve of perhaps the greatest British sporting year for some time.

Indeed, perhaps it was apt that Zara Phillips won the accolade and follow in the footsteps of her mother to win the award. 2006 had been a relatively good year for certain sports; Beth Tweddle's world title springs to mind as well as Nicole Cooke's achievements in cycling. But with no disrespect to any of the other nominees, in a year in which the World Cup was held, to have a cricketer who had played a handful of games for England in a relatively unsuccesful side and a Formula One driver, who's talent is undoubted, who won his first race in his seventh F1 campaign as nominees for the award spoke volumes about the poor year for British sport.

Ten months on from the ceremony, England are on the brink of winning a second consecutive Rugby World Cup and Lewis Hamilton is on the verge of becoming the first rookie ever to win the Formula One world championship. This is in addition to Scotland beating some of the finest sides in Europe en route to qualification to the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland next summer. England's qualification campaign is back on track and Northern Ireland were stunning some of the bigger nations in European football in theirs.

Is Britain experiencing a sporting renaissance or is this just typical British exaggeration? It is a bit of both to be honest. Next weekend will determine whether or not it has been a successful year. The Brazillain Grand Prix on Sunday and the World Cup final on Saturday will determine the final destinations of both the F1 Drivers World Campionship and the Rugby World Cup respectively. If both are achieved it will have been a vintage year, if one is achieved it will have been successful and if none, it was still better than 2006. Indeed, the British isles could also have two representives at a major football championship since 2002 if Scotland manage to negotiate the "Group of Death" after beating France home and away as well as World Cup quarter-finalists Ukraine, although one could argue that they are in a better position than England at the moment.

However one must remember that England were seen as no-hopers before their sensational victory over Australia last Saturday and Hamilton the supposed understudy to double World Champion in the McLaren this season. While England's triumph is to be celebrated, Wales and Ireland failed to get past the group stage of the Rugby World Cup and the Republic of Ireland and Wales never got their qualifying campaigns going for Euro 2008. We must remember that nothing has been achieved yet and that next weekend will be an unbelievable double-header of world class sport. One thing's for sure, whether Lewis Hamilton, Jonny Wilkinson or James McFadden (The scottish choice probably) win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2007, it will have been deserved