Who are the real role models?

Is the second weekend of July 2016, the best weekend of sport since Super Saturday at the London 2012 Olympics?

From early in the weekend through to late Sunday night, we had the privilege to watch some amazing sporting moments –  four British winners and another record for Serena at Wimbledon; Chris Froome continuing to dominate the Tour de France; multiple medals for the GB men and women at the European athletics; and a heroic win for Portugal at the Euros.  

Maybe it was better than Super Saturday for the sheer variety of sport. 

For the boys and girls who watched any or all of these moments, inspiration was in ample supply. Hopefully we’ll see many youngsters outside reconstructing their heroes’ exploits during the summer holidays. And, the Rio Olympics are still to come!

But which athletes should our children aspire to emulate? Should they look only at what they see in the competitive arena, or look beyond to observe how the world’s sporting greats conduct themselves on an everyday basis?

Cristiano Ronaldo is a case in point. Even mentioning his name will invite many frowns, but stay with me. Loved and loathed in equal measure, he absorbed more mockery than sympathy when he hobbled off in the early stages of the Euro 2016 final in Paris. Yet by the end he stood victorious (albeit on one leg). Who wouldn’t want to be him at that very moment?

Discussing Ronaldo in the office this morning, there was disagreement around whether he is indeed a positive role model for young people. On the one hand, as well as being the most prominent of players, he is also the perfect professional. It’s commonly known he has been the hardest working, the most committed, the most competitive of his peers on the pitch. If you want it, go and get it. That’s what Ronaldo has done and it’s a powerful message. 

So, on the other hand, if he flaps around in (apparent) pain every now and then, does it really matter? It’s more important to be ambitious, determined, resilient, isn’t it?

What about throwing a reporter’s microphone in a river…  is this the behaviour of a role model? Certainly not. 

Whether we are parents, grandparents, teachers, siblings, coaches, aunts or uncles… surely it is our responsibility to teach right and wrong? We are the real role models. We offer the moral compass. But people like Ronaldo provide the crucial spark of inspiration. 

If a child says they want to be like Ronaldo, tell them that’s great. But they had better get to work because it has taken him six hours a day, every day for more than 20 years to become a European champion.

And, if we offer the correct encouragement, that child will know that it’s beyond silly to have your own waxwork commissioned – and then pay someone to brush its hair!

Nelly Furtado, the singer, summed the Ronaldo riddle up rather poetically and accurately in a single statement: “Ronaldo dares to be great and cares about something. Try it.”

Now, that’s certainly a message we can promote to our children. 


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