June 21, 2009

Ignore this vile abuse, Kelly Holmes is a true Brit

You always remember what you were doing when something wonderful happened.

Well, on the evening of August 28, 2004, I was standing on a track-side seat and screaming as a young woman drove herself through the last few strides of an Olympic final. When she crossed the line, adding the 1500metres title to her 800m victory, I apologised to an American colleague for my outburst.

'Don't worry,' he said. 'She's a great lady, Kelly Holmes. You Brits should be proud of her.'

He was right, of course. Kelly's double was a prodigious achievement. In the annals of British sport it takes its place alongside Roger Bannister's four-minute mile, Bobby Moore's World Cup winners of 1966 and the 2003 Rugby World Cup victory of Martin Johnson's men. I well recall her tears of pride as she climbed to the peak of the podium and she did not cry alone.

Since that glorious Athenian evening, Kelly has continued to bring honour and credit to her sport. She was appointed National School Sports Champion and has enjoyed real success in increasing the amount of PE and active sport in our schools. She has designed and promoted programmes to support the development of gifted young sportsmen and women.

And she carries the credibility of an athlete whose own career - despite being distorted by injury and plagued by ill fortune - represented the ultimate vindication of spirit, endurance and towering talent. She was created a Dame in 2005 and more recently was elected President of Commonwealth Games England. In short, she is something more than a mere heroine; she has attained the status of national treasure.

Which makes the intervention of one Andrew Brons even more offensive.

Mr Brons is a leading light in the British National Party. He recently polled 9.8 per cent of votes in the Yorkshire and Humber region, which won him a seat in the European Parliament. He is a former member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. And this odious fellow has just expressed a view about our Kelly.

Although she was born in Pembury, Kent, and served for several years in the British Army before embarking upon her stunningly successful career in the British vest, she is not, in Brons's considered opinion, a fully-fledged Briton. For Kelly is the daughter of an English mother and a Jamaican-born father and her mixed-race heritage means that she is 'only partially from this country'.

Or, as he puts it: 'I don't accept the term Black British or Asian British. Britons are the indigenous peoples of these isles.'

Now, normally I should not dream of publicising the pitiful fantasies of Brons and his fellow inadequates. But his idiocy gives us the chance to reflect upon just how far sport has come.

Football, the national sport, has played a major part in engaging the entire community. The briefest glance at the current England team tells us how handsomely the sport has embraced diversity. Track and field has always had an admirable record in this area while rugby and cricket can point to genuine progress.

In truth, most of our major sports - with tennis a faintly depressing exception - have made intelligent efforts to broaden their talent base and British sport has benefited greatly from such enhanced inclusiveness.

It is, therefore, appropriate that the country should take collective offence when a fascist like Brons dares to question their presence in the nation's sport by declaring: 'They are British citizens, which is a legal concept, but not British by identity.' It is a statement both baseless and insulting and it says more about the poisonous dullard who made it than the men and women who it seeks to belittle.

For they are considerable people who have achieved great things, people like Ugo Monye, Ravi Bopara, Emile Heskey, Theo Walcott, Monty Panesar and Rio Ferdinand, as well as the woman who brought us screaming to our feet at the Athens Olympics.

'She's a great lady, Kelly Holmes,' said the American journalist. 'You Brits should be proud of her.'

Indeed we are, because Dame Kelly is one of the finest athletes in Olympic history. And she is one of us.

Patrick Collins in the Mail on Sunday

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