In Paris for a TV programme, I wake up, get ready to go for a run, then take a look at the pouring rain and decide the hotel gym treadmill might be a better idea. (Cue my favourite treadmill story, about the woman in Texas who tried to recruit me to the George W Bush email prayer group while I was running on one – running on a treadmill, that is, not a woman in Texas).
The Parisian treadmill was not working, so I braved the rain. As often happens, the irritation evaporated quickly and something better than a treadmill jog emerged.
Looking for the Bois de Boulgone, I came across the Parc des Princes, scene of one of the greatest sporting nights of my life when Scotland beat France there thanks to a wondergoal from James MacFadden. I like stadia anyway so idled away a while just running round the perimeter of what used to be the national stadium and is still home to Paris St Germain.
I was running slowly enough – not by choice I’m afraid – to enjoy the exhibition of photographs all around the outside of the stadium. They were effectively a celebration of the stadium, and of sport.
Nearby was also a smaller rugby stadium, home to Stade Francais, so I had a little peek around that. By now I had lost my bearings for the Bois de Boulogne but out of nowhere came a 3-lane, 200-metre all-weather running track attached to Stade Francais, next to a gym and volleyball court. So I pottered round there for a while.
What struck me was not a contrast with London in terms of facilities – we have some of the best stadia in the world, and contrary to the myths peddled using misleading statistics on playing fields, the record of the government in extending sports opportunities is a good one – but the lack of litter, graffiti or vandalism. It tends to be the same at all the little ‘stades’ you see in towns and villages around France.
Of course France has its economic and social problems the same as we do, but what it says to me is an integral respect for sport and its power to do good. And with the 2012 Olympics round the corner, I hope and believe that such attitudes, ingrained in the British for good, will be part of the legacy.
As for the TV programme, it is a new one being made for Canal Plus, called POPCOM, all about communications issues. The first one, recorded today for broadcast on Sunday, will look among other things at the different ways governments have handled swine flu, and also the vexed question of politicians and their holidays. The ‘peg’ is the criticism Barack Obama attracted for taking an expensive holiday. Cue memories of all the flak TB took down the years.
If I were Obama, I would ignore the flak and understand that everyone needs a decent break from time to time, especially those whose breaks are always constantly interrupted, as his seems to have been.
The team preparing the programme asked me if GB also got criticised over his holidays. Yes, I said, for not taking enough, and wearing his tie on day trips out. So, when the message is clearly that you can’t win whatever you do, best to do what you and your family want, Mr President.