Olympic success defines a new Britain for the 21st Century

The subject of my first blog, over three years ago, was ‘Convergence and Divergence’. It discussed an observation made, over twenty years ago, at an international business conference by a heavy-hitting American banker, a breed we respected at the time. He said:

‘Over time, convergence is more likely than divergence’. 

Watching the Olympics, I have asked myself time after time, lap after lap, if he was right. And I have concluded that no, I don’t think he was. It seems both have happened. We have converged and we have diverged. 

How so?

From a business perspective there has been convergence. These days, all the talk is of the BRIC markets – Brazil, Russia, India and China which, clearly, are all countries. But drill down to their smaller neighbours and multinational businesses group them on a regional basis. World markets are defined, pretty much, by the five continents which make up the five Olympic rings.

Culturally, the nations of the world, as demonstrated at the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, have diverged. The country that paraded itself as ‘Russia Unified Team’ in Barcelona twenty years ago is now a cornucopia of different nations many of which I would struggle to pinpoint on a map but all of which are demonstrably, and rightly, proud of their own cultural identities.

As individual human beings, it may be that the biggest social change since the first London Olympics in 1908 is that, where we used to think of ourselves as bound by national boundaries, and fought wars accordingly, we are now much more plural in our sense of identity. We can embrace a multiplicity of racial and cultural backgrounds and all be British.

In this way, the most enduring legacy of these Olympic Games may not be sporting at all.

Historically, the London 2012 Olympics could mark the moment when the British people accepted, at last, what it means to be British and became  comfortable with the cultural diversity we embrace – a diversity which is not defined by our place of birth or the colour of our skin but by the way we have behaved over the last two weeks.

It has become openly clear, as we have broadcast to the world, that Great Britain is so much more than a forced amalgam of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Obviously, Mo Farah is none of these. He was born in Somalia. But he is as British as any of us. What makes us proud of Mo Farah, and why he is a modern British icon, is not the refuge we have provided him or his wonderful English accent – but his gracious humility in victory, his love for his family, and the Bolt-like humanity of his publicly embracing ‘normal people’ in the stadium.

It is the behavioural values that Mo Farah and all our other athletes have shown that has warmed them to our hearts and brought us together as one nation. 

In this way a new, Great, Britain has been launched in the last fortnight.

Let’s hope that other countries in the world – not to mention our own discredited politicians and corrupt business leaders – can show the same spirit of inclusiveness, integrity, equality, tolerance and freedom by the time the Olympic Games come back to London.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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