David Beckham’s exclusion from the Team GB soccer side came as a complete surprise.
The LA Galaxy star had been one of the leading figures in the British charm offensive that helped bring the games to London in the first place.
He joined the star-studded entourage sent to Singapore to schmooze the movers and shakers of the International Olympic Committee in 2005. When it was announced that it was to be London in 2012 and not Paris, the former Manchester United star was as delighted as anyone.
Britain does heroic failure like no other nation, but the bid for the most prestigious sports tournament on earth, this side of soccer’s World Cup, was a triumph. It was a great bid backed by big hitters, but Beckham brought a touch of glamour to the occasion.
The team behind the triumphant campaign to secure the Olympic Games for Britain for the first time since 1948 had little time to enjoy their success. The next day four young men, minds poisoned by a heady mix of religion and victimhood, killed themselves and murdered 52 people on London’s transport system.
This was our 9/11.
On the days following the killing and maiming of ordinary people going about their business, nothing else mattered. Not least sport. Life eventually returns to normal, never for those who lost loved ones in such circumstances, but for the rest of us. Time passes.
This year the Olympic Games is unavoidable.
The staggering cost – estimated to top the $15 billion mark – has provoked negative press stories from the start, with some commentators questioning the wisdom of spending so much money on a sporting event during these austere times.
And how about this recent revelation: We have more troops offering security at the Games than serving in Afghanistan. That gem emerged after a private company botched the recruitment process for security staff. The firm’s own CEO described their performance as a shambles.
On the field though, things are looking a lot better.
A Brit – Bradley Wiggins – won the Tour de France last weekend and gave the whole country a lift. The perfect appetiser to the main course. Britain is now paying attention to the Olympics.
But one man who should be trying to win a gold medal will instead be sitting on the sidelines kicking his heels. And it doesn’t seem fair, or wise for that matter, that David Beckham should be that man.
The MLS midfielder star wasn’t selected for the Team GB squad by coach Stuart Pearce, a former teammate of Beckham on the English national side. The squad, when it was named, was widely expected to include Beckham as one of the over-aged players – each country can include three players over the age of 23 – but Pearce opted for Micah Richards, a Manchester City defender who was overlooked for the England squad at soccer’s recent European Championships.
The decision seems like an own goal by Pearce. He has been criticized from all quarters for leaving out the one superstar he could have selected. Even Sir Paul McCartney weighed in, not naming Pearce, but saying the man who made the decision was an “idiot.”
Pearce may turn out to be The Fool on the Hill, but his defense is that it was purely a soccer decision and nothing personal. But even for soccer reasons it seems a mistake.
Beckham can still play. He can still deliver killer free kicks and corners and use the ball as well as anyone. Sure, he may not be a 90-minutes man any more but if you need someone to change the game in the closing stages, I know who I’d want to be able to call on and it ain’t Micah Richards.
Pearce caused further upset by failing to select a single player from Scotland or Northern Ireland. Team GB? More like Team EW – England and Wales.
The absence of Beckham, though, is the bigger talking point and his exclusion has not chimed with the national mood. He is seen as someone who deserves to be there not just for playing his part in securing the games for Britain but because of the “wow” factor. His inclusion would have created huge interest in the team and galvanised the home crowds.
And as I said, he can still play.
If Stuart Pearce’s team wins the gold medal, he will be vindicated. But if it doesn’t, the decision to leave Beckham out of his squad will not be forgotten or forgiven.
Gordon Robertson is a Glasgow reporter, who also happens to be a football club chairman and a coach. He lives in Glasgow and travels to the East Coast in the United States frequently in the summer.