CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Lottery gave British athletics the Midas touch

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: How Lottery riches gave failing British athletics the Midas touch

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Gold Rush: Our Race To Olympic Glory 

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Kathy Burke: Money Talks 

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The fancy word for two concepts that don’t belong in the same sentence is ‘oxymoron’, such as ‘Love Island intellectuals’ or ‘GB News mass audience’.

‘Great British athletes’ was an oxymoron, not long ago. The nation was used to losing at football, getting trounced in cricket and utter humiliation at tennis.

Most of all, we expected disaster at the Olympics. We hadn’t enjoyed a good medals haul since 1924, the Chariots Of Fire games when runners Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell won golds.

Archive clips showed how dramatically that injection of funds benefited our young sports stars

But today, Britain’s sporting prowess is the envy of the world. As the England football team gets ready for tomorrow’s Euro semi-final, our hopes for the Olympics have also never been higher.

It’s an extraordinary reversal, one that amounts to a national reinvention. According to Gold Rush: Our Race To Olympic Glory (BBC1), it all began with Noel Edmonds.

Mr Blobby’s bearded chum hosted the first National Lottery draw in 1994, opening the show by driving an armoured security lorry loaded with banknotes across Tower Bridge and into the studio.

In an era before contactless cash, that’s how we visualised real wealth — as a truckload of £10 notes, delivered by a Radio 1 DJ. Prime Minister John Major ruled that one of the ‘good causes’ to benefit from Lottery takings should be grassroots British sport.

Archive clips showed how dramatically that injection of funds benefited our young sports stars.

In the space of four years, UK athletes went from embarrassment to all-conquering pride. The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta was painful to watch. We saw every false start that led to Linford Christie’s disqualification in the 100 metres, and the agony of Darren Campbell as he dropped the baton in the relay.

But John Major was adamant that without proper financing, ‘British sporting triumph’ would still be an oxymoron. ‘Money is the root of all progress,’ he said

By Sydney 2000, though, the likes of Kelly Holmes and Chris Hoy were achieving the impossible. Campbell tasted redemption, too: arriving home to adoring crowds, he said, made him and his fellow Olympic heroes feel ‘like the Beatles’.

The Lottery theory doesn’t explain everything. Alongside our Olympics resurgence was the rise of the Premier League, followed by World Cup victory for the England rugby team and the dominance of F1 champion Lewis Hamilton. Lottery money didn’t do that.

But John Major was adamant that without proper financing, ‘British sporting triumph’ would still be an oxymoron. ‘Money is the root of all progress,’ he said.

Actress Kathy Burke would not agree. She thinks people place too much importance on having money. Unless, of course, they’re hard up . . . in which case, money is really important. Obvious, innit? Money Talks (C4), the first of a vacuous two-parter, sent Kathy trundling round in a black cab to meet Lottery winners and business tycoons.

To let us know how unimpressed she was by their riches, she said the F-word a lot.

Actress Kathy Burke thinks people place too much importance on having money. Unless, of course, they’re hard up . . . in which case, money is really important. Obvious, innit?

To let us know how unimpressed she was by their riches, she said the F-word a lot. Greed and selfishness are the real bane of the modern world, she decided. Money’s all right, so long as you’ve got enough but not too much.

She has perfected the celebrity interviewer’s trick of asking a question, looking mortally bored by the answer, then seizing the first opportunity to start talking about herself.

Along the way she scattered sparkling fragments of insight like Swarovski crystals. Only those who have known what it is to be poor understand the real value of money, she said. Also, the new Rolls-Royces are much classier than the vintage ones.

Greed and selfishness are the real bane of the modern world, she decided. Money’s all right, so long as you’ve got enough but not too much.

That’s like saying central heating is a good thing — if your gas boiler doesn’t explode and destroy the house. Tell us something we don’t know. 

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