After the sixth or seventh instance, I cracked. I wrote to the BBC. Never done that before.
Can you guess why? The issue that Becky Adlington addressed head on...
Just because someone ends up with something other than a gold medal, it doesn’t make them a failure.
Maybe I was just watching the wrong moments but throughout last week, I seemed to be hearing the same thing. When I’d finally had enough, I wrote to BBC Feedback:
“The triathlon has just finished and I’ve just heard yet another post-event interview that has effectively criticised, blamed or otherwise demeaned a superb gutsy performance by a British athlete. Throughout the games we’ve heard competitors such as Zara Phillips or Rebecca Adlington or some of the small teams as in rowing or cycling (at the start of last week) decried for not winning a gold medal, implying in some cases that there simply wasn’t sufficient care or skill deployed or that the interviewee must feel a bit of a failure. Could we please have a bit more charity and appreciation for all the tremendous work that these men and women have put in over months and years? The final taste in the mouth has far too often been a bitter one. As the interviewer just now – after reducing Helen Jenkins nearly to tears and having clearly searched for something to finish with – said, ‘Well, bad luck!’”
So there we are. Rant over.
Except that it’s not a rant. It’s a statement that we don’t treat people properly. By saying ‘You could have done that better, couldn’t you?’ the interviewer is blaming the competitor. Sure, the athlete may want to comment on their own performance: that’s their privilege. They’ll know if it was a ‘personal best’ or not. Often, all the interviewer needs to add then is a word of encouragement.
A brilliant example was John Inverdale’s response to Purchase and Hunter after they had been pipped at the post by a Danish crew. Sensitive, empathetic, encouraging, very moving.
What about us? If someone fails our expectations of them, how do we feel? Disappointed? Probably. But blaming them? I can’t see that helping at all.
I remember suggesting to one of my sons that getting 90 per cent for something at school meant that he’d messed up a few things. Shame on me!
Often repeated instances of the same treatment will damage for life someone’s confidence and, more important, sense of self-worth.
Even when human beings were – as usual – behaving appallingly to each other, God sent Jesus, his son, to set us free from the mess we had got ourselves into. ‘For God did not send his son to condemn the world but in order that the world through him might be saved,’ as John writes in the Bible.
If we think we can do better than someone who’s done their best but fallen short in some way, let’s give advice at the right moment. Maybe.
If not, let’s encourage one another. Especially those who have committed their lives to being the best they can. I do wonder if some of those interviewers have so committed.
Have you? Have I?
By Nigel O’Dwyer, who lives – and seeks to improve his PB – in Worthing