Despite the problems that threaten the Games, I remain an enthusiastic and optimistic Olympian. To have taken part in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 was one high point of my own career—even though I was beaten into fourth place. To have attended and watched six Olympic Games since then has left me with memories of pathos and drama far above the petty ordinariness of so much of life.
In all the avalanche of criticism of international sport it is often forgotten that every athlete who participates becomes a bulwark back in his own country against accepting complete lies about another country. Once you have competed on the track and queued for food and joked in the shower room you can no longer be persuaded that a foreigner has two horns and a forked tail. In this sense, sporting exchanges are one great hope for the world, and it is in the deepest interests of the world for them to continue.
The revolution that has taken place in top-level sport in the last 20 years has been mirrored by another dramatic change. In the early '60s the British Sports Council examined ways of getting people to take part in sport. Sports facilities in Western democracies have always been the Cinderella of public spending and have been left to local clubs, often sadly impoverished. In Britain it was hardly surprising that there were so few aspiring athletes, with only half a dozen adequate running tracks in existence and 60% of the swimming pools having been built, in Victorian times, linked with the idea of cleanliness rather than healthy recreation.
Almost all our schools had fine facilities and compulsory games. Just why did adult participation wither away to a feeble 10%? Great urban conglomerations and our changeable climate often made the use of playing fields unattractive, but sociological research showed that the vast majority of people yearned to use their leisure more actively. We promoted the indoor sports center—a multipurpose building able to cater to 22 sports and often incorporating a swimming pool. Simple restaurants, stage facilities and nurseries filled out the picture, making our council's rallying cry of "Sport for All" a reality. The moment one town opened a center and people flocked in, neighboring mayors and city governments vied with each other to open similar sporting halls. During my tenure as chairman we saw the number leap from 20 to 400. Next I traveled the country beseeching the larger schools to share their sports facilities with the public in the evenings and school holidays. Where this happened there was an encouraging drop in the statistics for vandalism and petty crime because it proved such a boon to youngsters cooped up in cities.
As doctors we have become too negative, saying no to food, smoking and alcohol. Now is the time to say a massive "yes" to positive health. The message now is jogging not tranquilizers, tennis not heart attacks, sports clubs with friends instead of a psychotherapy group. I have always been reluctant to dragoon people into boring fitness routines; I have wanted them to choose activities they find exciting. Last year in London's Hyde Park, 12,000 runners of both sexes, aged from six to 60, joined in a public "fun run." That same month I fired the starting gun for 3,000 competitors in a marathon from Buffalo to Niagara Falls. The first two competitors, given an early start, were a pair of wheelchair disabled. The heartwarming spontaneity with which Americans grip a good new idea and put it into practice should be a lesson to the rest of the world.
Even at non-competitive levels, running, or jogging, has swept America, becoming the only healthful addiction I know, and now attracts some 20 million Americans who not only feel better but will also probably live longer. Doubtless there are jogging bores and some other fashion may in time supplant recreational running, but nothing can detract from this remarkable revolution in approach to physical activity, stemming at first from fear of coronary heart disease but now mainly sustained—and this is the important fact—because it is enjoyable for its own sake. Though an ankle injury in 1975 stopped my daily running, I now take my bicycle and still enjoy the sense of muscles used and happily tired, the sense of lungs stretched and a heart that is reaching down for some of its reserves. When I was 25 I wrote, "The sense of exercise is an extra sense or perhaps a subtle combination of the others. Small electrical impulses pass from our contracting muscles and moving joints to our brain. The electrical rhythm produced there is a source of pleasure. Like that caused by music, it is some interplay with rhythms inherent in our nervous system. However we attempt to explain it, like music it fills us with a feeling of power and beauty."
I stop short at the mysticism of it all, but there is no doubt that "Sport for All" is a 20th-century movement of real significance. Other mass movements have oppressed where they intended to liberate. This movement liberates because it has an essential individual basis. The choice of speed or route or distance and the company is entirely yours. Your own thing may not be running but knocking an innocent ball with a piece of wood or metal or gut. Whatever the choice, it rests in freedom, chiming in in some way with passions and needs that have primitive evolutionary significance and which to our peril we have too often dismissed as uncivilized and immature. The experience of the past 25 years has only served to reinforce my belief in the courage and infinite resourcefulness of sportsmen the world over. This augurs well for the future. The finest aspects of the human spirit are indeed indomitable.