Despite all the efforts, the noughties were never a decade that British sport could be proud of, yet it wasn’t all bad. A rugby union World Cup triumph in 2003 and a double Ashes success were inspirational; and let’s not ignore our athletes at Beijing, who gave Team GB their best medal performance in a century. But success in competition was too rare; yes we beat the Aussies in their own back yard, but apart from a flirt with the final in 2007, the rugby 2003 heroes sunk; as did the Ashes winners. Our footballers got us counting our chickens, only to drop the eggs when it mattered, and Henman, then Murray, romanced us for a week or so each year but found that the grass just wasn’t green enough.

If competitive achievement is where we went wrong, then there’s no remedy; you can’t breed a superstar overnight. Nevertheless, the forthcoming decade has the next best thing: bringing sport to Britain. The twenty-tens will see Britain showcase the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Cricket World Cup, both Rugby League and Union World Cups, and, fingers crossed, the Football equivalent. Gordon Brown has promised that it will be a ‘golden decade’ of sport.

The imminent failure of Murray at SW19 over the next decade – realistic, not pessimistic – will be a speck on the sporting roster ahead. In 2012 he’ll have to grace the grass twice, not that we’ll notice with Usain Bolt breaking records down the road. The best in Rugby League comes a year later, and we get the watered down version of the Olympics – the Commonwealth Games – in 2014. In 2015, the Home Nations will go for the Webb Ellis Cup on their own soil. And then just as we think it’s safe to start the clean-up, Cricket has its turn.

For once Gordon wasn’t far off – it should be a ‘Golden Decade’. And there could be more feathers in our cap. There are rumours of the Super Bowl crossing the Atlantic, and we find out in December whether the headliner can make it in 2018. Regardless of whether it does or not, Britain will still be smiling. Why? Well, my economist friend tells me that the noughties saw Britain’s worst recession since the 1930s. I’m no expert, but I can’t imagine there are too many cobwebs in the wallet of Mr. Sport. And if our competitive achievement continues to disappoint then we’ll look to score points on the hospitality charts. And perhaps, when we’ve got the world’s best sportspersons doing what they do best in our own back yard, we might well learn a thing or two.

Not quite Rule Britannia, but we’ll get there in the end.

Graeme Smith

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