More than half (53%) of Walloons would opt for a republic should Belgium disappear and Wall...
Amnesty International’s annual report reveals that Belgium is unable to control satisfactor...
Belgian postal operator bpost today announced that it would list a minority stake, currentl...
Several irregularities undermine the legality of Brussels’ annual Car Free Sunday event, pr...
British Olympics, Belgian success
The Bulletin is proud to publish the first in a series of exclusive monthly columns by the British Ambassador to Belgium, Jonathan Brenton.
Without wishing to state the obvious, it’s fair to say that teams at the Olympics compete against each other to reach the Olympian heights of the podium. But the Olympics also show how closely competing countries, like the UK and Belgium, work together – even though we often don’t realise it. You’d expect me to say that as British Ambassador to Belgium. Especially on a day when Great Britain’s women’s hockey team face Belgium. But look at some of the examples.
Everyone knows, I’m sure, that it was a Belgian who announced in 2005 that London had won the honour of hosting the Olympics, sending the crowds in Trafalgar Square into raptures. The man in question is Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, former Olympic sailor and international rugby player. Rogge has worked closely over the past seven years with his friend Lord Coe to ensure London delivers on its promises. And he’s someone who confidently predicted a great games and stood up for London when nerves started to fray in the final weeks before the games began.
Less well known is the role that Belgian companies have played. Dredgers DEME helped clear the Olympic Park in Stratford, helping to turn a former rubbish dump into the biggest new park in London for more than 100 years. That’s what you call a legacy. Another company, Desso, helped save the Wembley pitch by injecting fibres to strengthen the grass. (If you ever wondered what happened to the tradition of Flemish weaving – where our commercial relations began – there it is). And Liège’s EVS dominates the provision of slow-motion replays. As British Ambassador, I welcome Belgian commercial success. Like Belgium, the UK is an open trading nation, and trade is a win-win business. These contracts have helped create jobs in Britain and make for a better games.
Belgians are also playing their part in the Cultural Olympiad that accompanies the Olympics. One of the first events at Tate Modern’s summer programme was a dance by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, in a museum run by Chris Dercon, a man from Tervuren. Even the designer of the Belgian kit, Stijn Helsen, is a fan of the UK – not just Savile Row suits (which he loves) but the 1970s punk music scene. London Calling by the Clash provided the soundtrack at the launch of the Belgian Olympic collection last October.
And sport has brought Belgium and the UK closer. The great Eddy Merckx cycled to London to mark the opening of Belgium House in the Inns of Court just as Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France. Wiggins went on to take Olympic gold in the time trial, sending Britain cycling-mad – just like Belgium. And, as the Belgian press was quick to point out, Wiggins was born in Ghent. What’s more, Team GB cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, who won silver in the women’s road race, trained in the ‘cycling paradise’ that is Belgium. But it’s not just Olympic sport. 2012 is the year in which Vincent Kompany, who was born in Uccle and played for Anderlecht, captained Manchester City to their first Premier League victory in 40 years. And the Saracens rugby team are coming to play at Heysel in October.
As British Ambassador you’d expect me to be rooting for Team GB. Of course I am (especially the day after we won two golds). But fair play has always been part of the Olympics, ever since Baron de Coubertin, the father of the modern games, was inspired by the Wenlock games in England in the 19th century. The British crowds will cheer others’ success, and I hope that the Belgian athletes I have met in the past few months will get their fair share of medals.
It’s a great privilege for the UK to have the games – and it’s great that it’s bringing the UK and Belgium closer together. Next stop – the Paralympics!