Being British and a ‘good sport’ - the story of ‘Sport and the Law’
It is a sepia photograph and the four young women are posed in modest shift-like swimming costumers, homemade union jacks hand-sewn to their fronts. A fully clothed, stern-faced woman - trainer or chaperone? - is there in the photo with them. She is staring away from the camera lens, her whole demeanour shouting ‘party pooper!’.
And indeed, there is no sense of jubilation. No fists are pumping the air and the young women are unsmiling.
So let me celebrate the achievement on their behalf and introduce the conquering heroines of the 1912 Great Britain women’s 4 x 100 metres relay swimming team. It was the first time the event had been held at the Olympic games and they had won out of a field of just three to bag a gold medal for king and country.
The photograph is part of the ‘Sport and the Law’ exhibition at the Supreme Court, and if you are not totally sated with the Olympic games and sports generally it is well worth a visit. The exhibition isn’t just about the Olympics. It also describes the work of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which handles around 300 cases a year, and also rehearses high-profile cases in other courts where sport played an important role.
There are some fascinating facts. Did you know that the principle of immunity from legal liability for injuries caused during an organised boxing match was partly established as long ago as 1882? It has now been extended to certain recognised martial arts, too.
While we are on the subject, women’s boxing was officially recognised in March 1998 and will be part of the Olympic games for the first time this year.
The games have changed over the years. The ‘modern’ games, which date from Athens 1896, were based on Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s belief in the importance of amateur values: sportsmanship, fair play and opposition to payments to athletes. All of which is a far cry from today’s professional sportspeople with their lucrative sponsorship deals, not to mention badminton teams that set out to lose matches and the constant need for dope testing.
The exhibition dwells on lawyers, too, who have long had an affinity with the games. The first ‘modern’ games in 1896 featured a lawyer called George Robertson in the Great Britain tennis squad. This year, we have Tom Solesbury, who is through to the finals of the quadruple sculls rowing event that happens tomorrow. He qualified as a solicitor in 2005, but is not currently practising.
And then there is Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, who was our only entrant at the 1987 winter Olympics for the ski jumping event. He went on to read law at Leicester’s De Montford University.
But my favourite story, and the one I’m going to conclude with, is about a non-lawyer - Italy’s Pietri Dorando. He collapsed just short of the finishing line after running the marathon at London’s 1908 Olympics. A trackside official, presumably British and a ‘good sport’, helped him struggle the final few yards to be first over the line and win a gold medal.
He was disqualified, of course, because you are supposed to run your races solo. Nonetheless, Queen Alexandra presented the plucky Italian with a silver gilt cup. And Dorando went on to become a full-time celebrity as a ‘winning loser’.
The exhibition is at the Supreme Court until 28 September.
Jonathan Rayner is a reporter on the Gazette
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