A legacy worth more than medals- Brian Sims

By iSportconnect | August 20, 2012

I read with great interest that former Grand Prix driver Gerhard Berger has echoed the sentiments that I expressed in my last Expert Column, regarding the plethora of categories in single-seater motorsport.

Gerhard was one of the drivers with whom I worked at Benetton F1. Still very much involved with the sport, he recognises that we urgently need a clearly defined path for drivers to progress from karting up to the top international echelons of the sport and in particular, Formula 1.

His reasoning, however, is different to mine inasmuch that he looks at it more from the perspective of the sport and the drivers, whereas my views are based on the increasing difficulty in securing corporate sponsorship, as a direct result of a poorly defined structure within motorsport.

Nevertheless, the point that we both make is the same and I sincerely hope that Gerhard, in his role as FIA Single Seater Commissioner, will be able to overhaul a structure that has been allowed to fester for far too long. Financial gain should not be the over-riding factor that maintains the status quo.

Now on to a very different topic.

The flames had barely died down in the Olympic stadium before the gold rush started. This time it wasn’t for medals, it was for funding. Within hours of the closing ceremony, regional TV news programmes were wheeling out all the deserving causes.

We heard how young Timothy dreams of being a Team GB Hockey player, but is currently forced to buy his own trainers and hockey stick. We learned that “our Felicity” would be propelled into selection for Rio 2016 if only she was sponsored with a supply of new table tennis bats. The over- 70’s weightlifters from Blodgley Heath will soon want funding for altitude training in Kenya.

But, surely our 2012 Olympic legacy should be so much more than just working towards an even better Team GB medal tally in 2016?

We’ve all been so caught up in the emotion and excitement of the past two weeks, that we need to take a step back and analyse what it is we are trying to achieve in terms of a legacy. It was one thing to pour money into our own Olympics to ensure that the event was an outstanding success in every way. However, to achieve the legacy that the taxpayers demand, we need to be very clear as to what that should be.

Realistically we need to accept that we have only a slim chance of replicating in Rio the medal successes of 2012.  Even if we do manage it, I don’t believe that it will generate the unbelievable feel-good factor that we all have enjoyed of late. For a start, the time difference that will be experienced with Rio, will have a major impact on the immediacy of the event for British TV audiences, as will delayed print media coverage. So right now is the time to build on the 2012 success.

What I feel very strongly is that a golden opportunity exists to build a legacy far more important than simply helping a few young people achieve their sporting dream which will, in turn, probably lead to lucrative career, either within sport or the media.

As I see it, the real legacy would be to use the current, overwhelming awareness of sport, as a platform on which to tackle the alarming issue of obesity, lack of fitness and often direction amongst many young people, both in school and in later life. If we could find a way to bring this about, it really would be a win-win legacy.

Too much emphasis on purely improving medal-winning tallies only detracts from what can be achieved as a legacy. I’d be surprised if many of these young people who would be the focus of the proposed sports in school programmes, would be tempted to put on a pair of trainers just because Team GB won 100 medals and that a Gold Medallist will be visiting their school. A few might be inspired by this, but a lot more will be totally intimidated and despise sport even more if they genuinely feel that they could never reach medal winning levels, however hard they might try. So we don’t need more gold medal celebrities for the legacy to be achieved. We need innovative programmes that are designed to  get kids to enjoy sport for its own sake.

We already have a “celebrity” culture within our schools, where a presence on TV and in magazines is of prime importance. Programmes such as the X-Factor feed the belief that instant success can be achieved. We are in danger of making our youngsters believe that the only measure of success in sport is to win a gold medal. I think kids need to learn how to win well and lose gracefully. Not for one moment do I mean that we should stop them being competitive, but sometimes the obsession with winning means that so many youngsters can’t simply enjoy the participation and the benefits that that brings. Yes, to win is what sport is about, but there is far too much spoken by coaches and the like about “winning is all”. It isn’t for most people, it’s about taking part. Let’s never call that an old fashioned attitude!

As adults, we need to be very careful about the future that we are creating for our children. Sport is something that has given so much pleasure to so many people. Let’s not prevent millions more enjoying it by putting on too much pressure, too soon.

A real 2012 legacy should be measured by an increase in the number of school children involved in sport, not by how many medals Team GB wins in 2016.

About Brian Sims:
Brian Sims is one of international motorsport’s most experienced and successful sales exponents, securing over £60 million of sponsorship deals at all levels of the sport.

He is the author of a highly acclaimed book on the subject of securing sports sponsorship, the second edition of which was published in October 2011.

His career in sport included 11 years as a championship-winning professional racing driver, in the UK and in South Africa.  He also spent some years as the Marketing Director of the Kyalami F1 Grand Prix Circuit in South Africa.

On returning to England, he established the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA), securing sponsorship from Andersen Consulting, Hewlett Packard and Ford Motor Company.  This was the first trade association established to represent the British motorsport industry.

After three years as CEO of the MIA, Brian became Head of Motorsport for the international API Agency who represented the Benetton F1 Team. Brian secured over $14,000,000 of sponsorship for the Team subsequently becoming the Benetton F1 Team Commercial Director.

Brian then spent four years in South Africa, establishing the South African Motorsport Industry Association. In August 2010 he stood down as its CEO, to allow a South African to take over.

His latest major sponsorship acquisition deal is a three-year agreement with specialist insurance group, HISCOX, on behalf of the Official Aston Martin Racing Team, Jota.
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