How can we get excited about ‘plastic Brits’ in Team GB?

In just over two weeks’ time, amid much pomp and ceremony, the ‘Greatest Show On Earth’ will commence.

Love it or hate it, you’ll find it hard to avoid the London Olympics – especially as there is a three-line whip for the national media to attempt to brainwash us into thinking we actually care about handball, weightlifting and synchronised swimming.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So say the volunteer zombies speaking the gospel according to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG).

I should hope so, given the fact that the Games is costing £11 billion (About four times what they said it would back when London was successful in its bid).

I certainly wouldn’t want British taxpayers having to stump up that sort of money every four years.

We’d be doing a Greece/Spain/Italy (insert as appropriate) before you know it.

Never mind. It’s not as if that £11 billion could have been spent on anything more important, is it?

Like improving the NHS or saving 20,000 Army jobs…

No, much better to spend £11 billion on a two and a half-week vanity exercise which will do nowt but regenerate a deprived bit of the capital and has created legions of non-jobs.

Let’s forget, for a moment, the fact that the Olympics is a massive corporate monster.

Let’s turn a blind eye to the over-zealous security measures which led to armed police surrounding a bag containing an electronic cigarette and bully-boys wrestling small children off their bicycles if they get too close to the Olympic Torch parade.

Let’s set aside the bizarre ticketing arrangements and pretend that we buy into this idea that London 2012 is an event for the whole nation.

Let’s kid ourselves into thinking that there will indeed be a huge surge in the numbers of children playing sport as a result of watching Greco-Roman wrestling and other things which can, at best, be described as niche.

Let’s set aside the questionable selection process which has led to a world number one-ranked athlete being left out of Team GB because his face doesn’t fit while a former drug-cheat is given the green light.

But I would suggest there’s still a problem with giving Team GB your whole-hearted support later this month.

You see, quite a few of our athletes aren’t actually, er… British at all.

In the same way that Kevin Pietersen (KP) and Jonathan Trott, of our all-conquering test cricket team aren’t technically English.

Or, seeing as how we all love tennis for a nanosecond, the way Canadian Greg Rusedski was Britain’s number one not so long ago. Other sports, such as rugby union, are just as guilty, of course.

Yes, Team GB has ‘borrowed’ quite a few of its athletes from other nations.

This has led to the accusation that we are fielding ‘plastic Brits’ – one which I find hard to disagree with.

It will certainly be interesting listening to the commentators trying to whip up a bit of patriotic ferver when our league of nations of adopted runners, jumpers, cyclists and wrestlers do their thing.

We have, in no particular order: the not very British-sounding Olga Butkevych – a Ukrainian wrestler; 400-metre runners Michael Bingham and Shana Cox from the U.S. – along with hurdler Tiffany Porter; Yamile Aldama, representing us in the triple jump, is from Cuba; cyclist Philip Hindes is from Germany; and last, but by no means least, long jumper Shara Proctor is from the Caribbean island of Anguilla (which I had to look up). Meanwhile, the British handball team has almost 20 foreign-born players. Ten of Team GB’s basketball players were born overseas while nine of ‘our’ volleyball team were.

Team GB chief Andy Hunt has emphatically denied there are any ‘plastic Brits’.

Well he would, wouldn’t he?

He said: “Everyone who will compete for Team GB has a British passport and has fulfilled all the eligibility criteria and I’m totally satisfied around that.”

But how can we truly get behind the notion of Team GB when we know full well that many of its competitors are only here by dint of marriage or because they give our slim medal hopes a boost?

You see, when KP or Trotty score a century for England I don’t quite feel the warm glow I get when Englishmen Alistair Cook or Ian Bell achieve the same feat.

So I know exactly how I’ll feel if American Tiffany Porter – laughably named captain of our athletics team – makes it on to the podium.

None of this is new, of course. Eighties throw-back yours truly well remembers the furore over bear-footed South African Zola Bud wearing the red, white and blue.

Frankly, this sort of thing is a nonsense.

It makes a mockery of international sport and renders the medals table meaningless.

Personally, I’d rather see inferior athletes born and bred in this country competing at the highest level of whatever sport it may be rather than foreigners shipped in as a way of massaging our standing and justifying the largesse of our Olympics extravaganza.

If Britain can’t produce top class athletes across the various sporting disciplines then I would suggest it is the bodies in charge of those sports in this country who need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

The answer surely isn’t to turn Team GB into some sort of foreign legion flying flags of convenience in the hope that it brings in a few more golds, silvers and bronzes.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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Who is to blame for the city council’s debt mountain?

They called it the ‘credit crunch’, didn’t they? A snappy little soundbite which attempted to explain to the masses that the bubble had finally burst and the Western world’s economy was going to hell in a handcart.

Cue businesses going bump left, right and centre, horrific job losses, a housing market slump and a global financial crisis the like of which hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

We can blame big city bankers for playing God all we want and, yes, they played their part.

But the truth is that – for years – individuals, families, groups, businesses and even nations had been living on the never, never: Borrowing, taking out loans and living beyond their means.

Then suddenly it was time to settle up and lots of people, many companies and even some countries simply couldn’t pay their debts.

The pain of the credit crunch has lingered since 2008 and shows no sign of abating.

Every aspect of our lives has been affected as a result of rising unemployment, the collapse of pension funds, the increased cost of living and the sweeping cutbacks in the public sector enforced by a Coalition Government desperate that we deal with our debt and don’t ‘do a Greece’.

Caught up in this financial maelstrom, the NHS, the emergency services and local authorities are battling desperately to deliver vital public services with ever shrinking budgets.

Local authorities like Stoke-on-Trent City Council which a few weeks ago confirmed cuts of £24 million on top of similar, city-wide belt-tightening amounting to savings of £35.6 million the previous year.

The figures involved are truly mind-boggling. I guess once you get past the first £10 million it’s all just numbers, isn’t it?

Unless, of course, those numbers meant you were one of the 300 people to lose their job with the council.

Or you were one of the thousands who suffered as a result of the many cutbacks to services across the board.

Well here we are, less than two months after those savings were announced it seems the city council is suffering a credit crisis all of its own making.

New figures show the authority is owed a staggering £8.6 million.

This debt mountain has accumulated from relatively minor bills which have gone unpaid by thousands of people.

It covers all sorts of services from room hire, skip hire and licensing fees through to commercial rent, market stall rent and even rubbish collection.

Yes, that’s right. The city council, which has been forced to make people redundant and make cutbacks on everything from allotments to swimming pool subsidies should be millions of pounds better off than it actually is.

Now I could understand an organisation the size and scope of a unitary local authority being owed substantial sums of money. Maybe several hundred thousand pounds.

Perhaps even a million.

But £8.6 million in unpaid bills because the council allowed people to use services without settling the bill until a later date is beyond a joke.

One of the key reasons businesses go bump is because of cash-flow problems. In other words, they fail to get what is owed to them quickly enough.

Councils don’t generally go bump – they just share the pain – which is exactly what has happened here in the Potteries.

We are told that new policies have now been introduced to avoid such problems in the future but, in all likelihood, the authority will end up writing-off the bulk of this debt and so questions surely remain.

Questions like: Why was the debt mountain allowed to accumulate in the first place? How come no-one saw this coming? Which officers are at fault, here? Why weren’t there procedures put in place long ago to avoid such a fiasco?

It wasn’t so long ago that the powers-that-be at the city council were considering doing away with the vital role of Lord Mayor to save just tens of thousands of pounds.

Meanwhile, there has – understandably – been much gnashing of teeth over the cost to taxpayers of the Port Vale bail-out which was crucial to the Mother Town of Burslem.

The fact is if the authority had had procedures in place to collect in some of the millions of pounds it was owed this year’s cutbacks would surely not have had to be so harsh, so painful and so wide-ranging in the first place.

Councillor Sarah Hill, cabinet member for finance, says: “It’s now about how we manage it from here on in.”

I beg to differ, Sarah. Just because the horse has bolted doesn’t mean you can’t examine the stable door to find out how it got out in the first place.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Pound for Pound, we’re better off out of the Euro

The terrible violence in Greece brings home to us, if anyone was in any doubt, just how serious the global economic problems are.

Coupled with yet more bad news from the High Street in the UK – where more big names are facing oblivion – it makes for a pretty bleak outlook.

Some people may take the Little Islander view of ‘oh well, I’ll avoid Greece when choosing my holiday, then.’

But the fact is that the repercussions of allowing Greece to effectively go bust would be felt across the whole of Europe.

Thus, decisions taken in the coming days will affect us here in the UK – whether we like it or not.

By the same token, however, I’d rather be a UK citizen right now than a German national, for example.

The simple fact that we are not part of the ‘Euro-zone’ affords Britain a measure of protection from this perfect storm of economic chaos.

I’ve never been a fan of the Euro or the fundamentally-flawed attempt to suck all the countries of the continent into one amorphous blob – thereby diluting our heritage and afflicting us with the many disadvantages of other countries.

Let’s face it: As my late colleague John Abberley was oft known to state – the EU is corrupt and unaccountable.

We, here in Britain, get far less out of it than we actually put in.

It’s no wonder all those Euro-sceptics who fought so hard against the creation of a single European currency, are now saying ‘I told you so’.

Pound for Pound, we are certainly better off out of the Euro.