Honours and Sport – Update

Following my post on Honours and Sport a couple of weeks ago, and my speculation on who would get what in the New Year’s Honours List as a result of peformances at the Olympics, the UK Government has come up with an interesting solution. A whole new Honours List! As you will notice in the linked article, nothing has as yet been confirmed by Whitehall, but if it’s been reported on the BBC, chances are it’s entirely kosher.

That still doesn’t take away the Main Honours Advisory Committee’s difficulty of who gets what in terms of honours. Gold medallists only? Medallists only? It also sets an interesting precedent in providing an Honours list after a major sporting event. Will this occur in 4 years time if Britain have similar (but most likely lesser given the lack of the “London effect”) success? If England win the World Cup in 2014 or 2018, will a similar separate Honours list be provided for the 23 men in the squad plus coaches? I wonder if these consequences have been thought through.

What one might also argue is that this new proposal somewhat devalues the Honours system. There is no doubt that many of those winning medals this summer, both in the Olympics and the Paralympics, deserve the extra recognition provided in joining the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. If so many are to be handed out, however, that a large percentage of the next British Olympic squad have something ending in “BE” after their name, to my mind it removes something special not only in their receiving an Honour, but in the lollipop lady who’s worked for 60 years receiving an MBE. If the Olympians can have an extra Honours List, why not lollipop ladies?

As an aside, one man who probably won’t appear on the Olympics Honours List is Sir Chris Hoy (unless there’s a peerage coming his way). He will, however, receive the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh on Sunday 16 September at the newly refurbished Assembly Rooms in George Street.

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Honours and Sport

A bit more off-topic action in today’s post. There has been rather a lot of discussion in the last few days as to how, and indeed if, the UK’s various gold, silver and bronze medallists from the recent Olympics should be rewarded by their nation. Knighthoods have been suggested for some (particularly for Bradley Wiggins and, to a slightly lesser degree, Mo Farah), and the debate has now centred on where the cut-off is. Should all the gold medallists get at least an MBE? All medallists get at least an MBE?

The issue the Main Honours Advisory Committee (the “Committee”) now has in recommending honours to the Queen for New Year is that, in the past, they have rather been thrown around like sweeties. Given the precedents set, it might be difficult for the Committee to do anything but hand out at least MBEs to at least every gold medallist. The following give some interesting past examples of Honours which were perhaps handed out a bit too hastily:

Paul Collingwood

One of the more controversial sporting honours recipients (courtesy of Binguyen on Wikipedia)

Paul Collingwood MBE – New Year’s Honours List, 2006

Paul Collingwood is a fine cricketer, and was a sound international cricketer, no question, who served his country well. What is perhaps less clear is his contribution to the Ashes in 2005, which led to him and his team-mates all receiving, at the very least, MBEs. Collingwood was in the squad throughout that relatively historic series, but didn’t feature until the fifth Test at the Oval. His contributions of 7 in the first innings and a fairly gutsy 10 in the second helped England over the line to draw that final Test and win the series outright.

What I’m a bit less clear on is why those actions deserved an MBE. Yes, he was part of a winning team, but his 17 runs compared with Kevin Pietersen’s 473 is a bit on the low side. Indeed, you could argue Gary Pratt provided a more defining moment in those Ashes, and all he got was a trip on the booze cruise to Downing Street. To be fair to “Colly”, his contributions in the 2009 series in particular possibly absolve him of some of the disdain for his honour, but the timing was a bit off.

Robbie Earle MBE – Birthday Honours, 1999

Robbie Earle has always struck me as a likeable, if slightly misguided and overpaid, chap. His MBE in 1999 was for services to football. Having had a bit of a scout about, I’m not entirely sure what he did above and beyond playing for Wimbledon and Jamaica to receive such an honour, although he does seem to have done a lot for Kick Racism Out of Football. Having said that, in 1999, Helen Rollason (the late BBC sports reporter) also received an MBE for her charity work and fighting terminal cancer while still appearing on the news with regularity. Robbie was the captain of Wimbledon. I’m not having a go at him; I’m pointing out that perhaps the honours system works in a bizarre fashion, and continues to do so.

Sir Nick Faldo – Birthday Honours, 2009

There’s no doubt that Nick Faldo achieved a lot in his career. A fine golfer, a worthy winner of six major championships (3 Masters, 3 Opens). His last major triumph came in 1996, defeating Greg Norman in the Masters in an incredible final round turnaround. He’s designed golf courses, captained a wildly unsuccessful (by modern standards) European Ryder Cup team and been annoying on the telly since. His knighthood in 2009 for “services to golf” was, therefore, something of a surprise; at the rate Rory McIlroy is going with major wins he can expect an knighthood at least before he’s 30.

Barry Ferguson MBE – Birthday Honours, 2006

To be (vaguely) fair to Barry Ferguson, it’s perhaps his conduct since the receipt of his MBE which has made him seem particularly undeserving of the award. He’d hardly been a 28-year-old angel up to that point, but his conduct during the World Cup 2010 qualifiers in particular make those 3 letters after his name seem rather disingenuous. Barry had seemingly done a lot of work for the Rangers Charity Trust to go towards the receipt of his award. Nevertheless, a Scottish footballer who’s won a few titles and did a bit of charity work, then gave the world the finger on live television is a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Based on the list above, then, and no doubt countless other examples that some may care to mention, there is a difficult balance to be struck when it comes to Olympic honours. It’ll be interesting to see how the Committee chooses who gets what. Given the precedents previously set, someone will no doubt emerge from this process, come 1 January 2013 (although thats when they’re announced, the potential recipients find out rather earlier), a little upset.