Alan Hubbard: If Paralympians are looking for someone to blame in Honours row it should be David Cameron

Tuesday, 01 January 2013
Alan Hubbard head and shouldersAs predicted, it's trebles all round as Sir Brad, Sir Ben, Dame Sarah and virtually the entire cast of 2012 celebrate their New Year Honours.

Then plethora of gongs dished out to Olympic and Paralympic winners  suggests that Lord Coe and his Sports Honours Committee employed a scattergun rather than the hatpin which seems to have been the selection procedure in other areas where the usual procession of civil service time-servers and political cap-doffers await the invitation to Buckingham Palace.

But not every is joining in with effusive messages of congratulations. Many seem to think than handing out awards by the bucketload to those who won gold is both unwarranted and unmerited.

KCB, CBE, OBE, MBE... is it all OTT? .

A radio phone-in on Saturday evening posed the question: Do Britain's Olympic and Paralympic champions deserve to be honoured in this way?

You may be surprised to know by ratio of 10-1 the answer was a resounding "No".

Now I am personally ambivalent about the Honours List - probably because I have never been on it - but there may well be some sympathy with the argument that Olympians - indeed all sportsmen and women - are only doing what they love and that the only medal they should care about is the one hanging around their neck; one that these days can be quickly converted into wads of hard cash from personal appearances, sponsorship and endorsements.

But some of the recipients themselves also seem less than delighted  with the system, not least a fistful of Paralympians, among them the dressage rider Lee Pearson (OBE) who told the Independent on Sunday that he was "pissed off" at the apparent discrepancy between disabled and able-bodied medal winners and that he was personally disappointed not to get a knighthood after winning his tenth gold in London .

He has a point. His gold medal tally is greater than the newly enobled Sir Wiggo's and Sir Ben Ainslie's put together.

Ben Ainslie on podium London 2012Sailor Ben Ainslie received a knighthood, even though he has less than half the number of gold medals that dressage rider Lee Pearson has won in the Paralympics

Six-times gold-medal wheelchair racing winner David Weir (CBE), one rung below a knighthood,  is also highly critical, suggesting Paralympians need to win more than their Olympic counterparts to get the similarly honoured.

That peerless Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who sits on the Sports Honours Committee chaired by newly anointed Companion  of Honour Lord Coe, says she does not think you can compare the Olympics and Paralympics.

"Every gold medal Paralympian has bene honoured, which wasn't the same in previous years."

True. But if  if you want want to blame anyone for there not being a Sir David Weir or Sir Lee Pearson (or even a Dame Jessica Ennis) then perhaps it should be David Cameron - why as not the PM seems to get the blame for everything else?.

Apparently it was 10 Downing Street which imposed a quota,with an edict that there should be a cap on the number of sporting knighthoods and damehoods because it was felt the number of such awards being mooted was getting out of hand.

At every level of honour, more Olympians than Paralympians have been publicly rewarded in what supposedly as a year of sporting equality.

But the Honours List has never been a level playing field.

Especially, it is claimed, in Northern Ireland. There Irish eyes are definitely not smiling when they scan the record 127-strong list of those about to be gonged-up for their 2012 contributions.

There are Olympians from England, Scotland, and Wales...but not a single one from Northern Ireland.

This Irish angst is expressed forcibly by the Belfast Telegraph which points out  is not only gold which has earned gongs - silver medallist gymnast Louis Smith received an MBE. So they ask: "Why not our Coleraine oarsmen Richard and Peter Chambers who won silver in one of the most gruelling contests of the entire Olympics?

Team GB men four London 2012There is anger in Northern Ireland that rowers Peter and Richard Chambers (left and second right), who won silver medals at London 2012, have not been recognised in the Queen's New Years Honours List

"It would have made sense, if nothing else, to keep some parity with the awards to England, Scotland and Wales, in this sad saga of missed opportunities.

"The current New Year honours are particularly controversial in Northern Ireland because they do not award a single athlete here despite the outstanding achievements of several individuals in the London Olympics and Paralympics.

"The arguments for not doing so are unconvincing. Perhaps our Northern Ireland competitors were overlooked because we are the United Kingdom's second-class citizens and that people of influence in London and elsewhere could not care less about us.

"Even our Stormont Executive failed to arrange a proper home-coming celebration for all our Olympic and Paralympic athletes in the form of a street parade or reception where the public could show its support.

"Not so the Dublin Government, which was quick to honour its athletes - including some from Northern Ireland - in this way.

"Nevertheless, even if our local athletes deserve to have greater recognition from London and Stormont, their achievements will continue to be honoured by the ordinary people, where they matter most of all."

Fair point? As I say, fairness is clearly not the criteria.

If Kelly Holmes should get the ultimate accolade for her double gold triumph in Athens, why not Mo Farah? It's illogical.

And surely Gemma Gibbons, who emotionally won a nation's hearts as well as judo silver, would have been as worthy a recipient of an MBE as Louis Smith. But then she didn't win Strictly Come Dancing.

Louis Smith in Strictly Come DancingDid the fact gymnast Louis Smith win Strictly Come Dancing help him be awarded an MBE, while other Olympic medallists were overlooked?

There are other curious anomalies. Jackie Brock-Doyle, Lord Coe's media minder, gets an OBE for the admirably professional job she did as the London 2012 Director of Communications. Yet this is is one step down from the CBE awarded to her combative predecessor, Mike Lee, who fulfilled the same role in the run-up to London winning the bid.

And much as I applaud the MBE  given to Rob McCracken, Team GB's head boxing coach, is not Tony Minichiello, who has nurtured and mentored Ennis to her phenomenal heptathlon gold, equally worthy, along with a number of other unsung coaches?

There are MBE's for boxing's three gold medallists but I  am puzzled why, for example,  Anthony Joshua's victory in the super-heavyweight divison, on, let's face it, a slightly fortuitous home-town decision, is deemed worthier than the much lesser BEM belatedly handed out last year to boxing's oldest surviving world champion, 77-year-old Terry Downes, who has worked so tirelessly for charity.

The BEM (British Empire Medal) is the sort of bauble they usually dish out to long-serving town clerks. Maybe someone on the Honours Committee had a dyslexic moment when they noted it down.

There also has been some bleating - mainly from Scotland (though not from him) - that Andy Murray got a mere OBE and not a knighthood after winning Olympic gold and the US Open. Doubtless he will be upgraded to a K if and when he wins Wimbledon.

Fred Perry in actionFred Perry was never knighted despite being the last British man to win the Wimbledon title

But let's remember that the last Briton to do so, Fred Perry, three quarters of a century ago, has never been honoured in any way.

Now honours are flung about like confetti, but if they are judged the criteria of our acclaim then 2012 's fabulous sporting stars deserve to be at the head of the queue at  the Palace, lapels freshly pressed.

Even if it does seem all a bit gong-ho.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire
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