St Bride's: News

Sir Michael Parkinson welcomes sports journalists

This summer London has played host to hundreds of thousands of Olympic visitors, among them nearly 20,000 journalists from all over the world who have been covering the Games. As the journalists church we wanted to do something specifically for them, and so on the Tuesday before the Games began we held a special service followed by a reception at the Stationers Hall.

We chose as the theme "Light the Flame, Ignite the Spirit", encouraging journalists to dedicate themselves to faithful reporting and a spirit of friendship and co-operation.

Our sponsors were BT and the Sports Journalists Association, whose president Sir Michael Parkinson gave the address. During the service a special candle was lit which has been burning during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

After the service there was a gathering at Stationers Hall where we were joined by more journalists, together with a number of the volunteer chaplains who were working on the Olympic sites. Thanks are due to our sponsors, and Gerald Bowey and Clive Hill-Archer for helping to make the evening possible.

The Address

parkinson.jpgI was 13 when London last staged the Olympics. We were a bedraggled lot, wearied by war and its aftermath. As victors we had imagined it might be different. In fact it didn't feel like we had won the war. We lived off rations, endured a hand to mouth existence. Life was lived in black and white. Colour didn't arrive in Britain until the 60's. In 1948 the Olympics came to London and were called the austerity games.

Impoverished, more like.

My only memory of the games was watching on newsreel a remarkable woman athlete called Fanny Blankers-Koen. She was a controversial figure - in those days women running and jumping were regarded in some quarters as unconventional. A 30 year old woman with two children like Blankers-Koen was thought to be a freak. Well, the freak won 4 gold medals and came to be regarded as one of the greatest Olympians of all time.

She fired my imagination, not simply because she looked like my Auntie Madge but because she beat the world wearing - what seemed to me at the time - a pair of substantial blue bloomers.

Bloomers apart Blankers-Koen gave me an insight into how sport can forge ambition; inspire the watcher, as well as the participant, to unimagined achievement.

Fanny Blankers-Koen didn't lead me to a life of reporting sport but she actually caused me to wish I had been there eager to witness the miracle first hand, and to tell the world what i saw.
Now 64 years later we are on the threshold of the third Olympic Games to be held in our wondrous city and i am speaking to you as president of the sports journalists' association which was formed to commemorate the 1948 Olympiad.

I have always regarded the job of reporting sport to be as important as it is desirable. To be given the best seat in the house is a privilege. And having spent a lifetime in journalism endeavouring to find out about people by talking to them, i have no doubt the most revealing aspects of character are gained by watching someone participate in a game.

Sport reveals the cheats and the fakers - whether they like it or not - as well as those honourable men and women - thankfully in the majority - who compete with principled dedication. In the sporting arena the soul of a competitor is laid bare revealing that which is only revealed when a human being is under extreme duress. But the real joy of observing sporting endeavour is to witness those athletes who define style as being grace under pressure.

The chosen, special, gifted few who seem propelled by a different law of motion than that possessed by the rest of us. One thinks of Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, Seb Coe and many more.

In the lead up to the games, all the concerns about security, all the controversy about the grotesque proliferation of sporting events, the absurd cost - surely common-sense demands this must be the last of the extravagant games - all of these concerns and the rest will be forgotten by the glory of athletes winning the ultimate reward with courage, skill and grace.

As Hugh McIlvanney wrote in the Sunday Times:-

"as ever, we are entitled to have faith that the athletes will rise above the games' monstrous political and commercial accretions to stir and warm us - consistently with the intensity of their aspirations, frequently with the grace of their performances and occasionally with the historic level of their achievements. If we are to have glowing memories of these Olympics, only the international throng of competitors can provide them."

One final word, during a long career Hugh McIlvanney has consistently proved my long held belief that often the best writing and the best journalism is to be found on the sports pages. The Americans have long held that view and with contributors like Red Smith, Jimmy Breslin, Ring Lardner, A J Liebling setting the standards it would take a foolish fellow to challenge that opinion. On the other hand their English counterparts have sometimes endured a reputation as inferior beings working, for what one editor memorably described, as 'the toy department.'

Having during my career worked alongside Neville Cardus, John Arlott, Brian Glanville, Frank Keating, Patrick Collins, James Lawton , Geoffrey Green, Paul Hayward, Martin Johnson and many others of like ability and integrity - all I can say is 'some toy department.'

It is my belief that the best of today's sports journalism is better than it has ever been. On the other hand there are now more - too many - articles ghosted by people who can write on behalf of people who can't, and this is a development i greatly deplore.

So let the Games begin and let you embrace and enjoy the weeks ahead. For our visitors from distant places you are most welcome, and I hope you will savour our great city and its friendly people.

For myself I shall be viewing, listening to and reading your endeavours. Like the great American jurist and politician, earl warren, I always turn to the sports section first believing as warren explained: "the sports section records people's accomplishments, the front page nothing but man's failures."
I wish you good fortune in your coming endeavours.

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