I was intrigued by what the BBC’s horse sport expert Clare Balding had to say about Britain’s team silver medal in the equestrianism at Greenwich Park today:
“If the cross-country course was as big as a Badminton or Burghley, Britain would have been favourites as they are a better cross-country nation.”
I’ve long opposed holding this event at Greenwich. It’s closed the park for months (and parts of it for years) for a few days of elite sport from which the vast majority of people are excluded. The park will not be fully restored to its pre-Olympic state until 2015. It’s been damaging for the local economy – visitor numbers this summer have fallen because so much of the area is shut. It will leave no legacy whatever, either for the sport or for the area – indeed there is an increasing risk of permanent damage to this priceless park. Because of all the wet weather, they’ve been piling more concrete on what used to be the lawn in front of the Maritime Museum to hold the showjumping arena up. Let’s hope they can get it out again, shall we?
None of that matters, of course, so long as the TV pictures are pretty and there are plenty of junkets for the local councillors. But there were always major concerns in the equestrian world – including by one of the competitors today, Zara Phillips – about the wisdom of fitting a cross-country course into the tight little spaces of an urban park. It was indeed a very challenging course. To be fair, Britain did well in the cross-country – but the medal placings were so tight that it would have helped us to do even better. And if Greenwich has cost us our first gold medal of the Games, maybe that might be enough to puncture the hype around this deeply unwise decision.