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Sporting year in review 2012

Sir Chris Hoy Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

There is much to remember and because of that, so much that no doubt will be forgotten about the unique and game changing sporting year of 2012.

An English team won football’s Champions League, Andy Murray ended that tedious wait for a British Grand Slam, Europe’s Ryder Cup golfers staged a remarkable fight back to beat the Americans and England’s cricketers grabbed their first series win in India for nearly 30 years.

Each and every one of those achievements was stunning and in any other year would probably have sat alone at sport’s top table.

But of course, the pinnacle of 2012 happened in London.

It was a many pronged pinnacle.

Perched on its golden points Mo Farah, David Weir, Jessica Ennis, Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Ellie Simmonds and so many more.

Mo Farah ran the men's 10,000m final to perfection Credit: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

A nation of perennial under achievers transformed for one golden month into world beaters.

Not only did Team GB excel but Britain staged a global event to be proud of – there were no terror scares, no transport crises, not a single organisational cock-up and most unexpectedly of all, even the rain held off.

It was also a rare month or so when Britain seemed to luxuriate in being British; for once we all shared a common interest and a common passion. And it was more than just the sport, much more.

The face of the Games, Jessica Ennis, cemented her place as a London 2012 icon. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire/Press Association Images

It was also a time when Britain redefined its personality, or at least, realised how it had, almost unnoticed, already been redefined.

Britain’s faces of the Games were a glorious potpourri of shades, more Rainbow Nation even than Nelson Mandela’s original version in post-apartheid South Africa.

Farah, Ennis and Rutherford may have a gold medal, a Team GB vest and a British passport in common but when it comes to their blood lines, well, that’s where the similarities end.

Ellie Simmonds wins the SM6 200 metres individual medley Credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

So given our diverse national personality isn't it wretched that our national game will be remembered this year for the fall-out from a catalogue of race-related controversies.

And they stand out not just because of the controversies themselves but how they were handled by those involved, their clubs and the guardians of the game.

More than a year on, Liverpool still won't accept that Luis Suarez racially abusing Patrice Evra was anything other than a lost in culture moment and Chelsea never really took their captain John Terry to task despite his verbal venom directed at Anton Ferdinand.

Bradley Wiggins sits on his throne after winning the Men's Individual Time Tria Credit: John Giles/PA Wire

And then there's the Football Association.

Yes, they pursued Terry even after a magistrate had cleared him but during that time, although he was denied the England captaincy, he was allowed to carry on playing for the national team. When their own panel found him guilty they suspended him for half the number of games Suarez had to mark time for.

Whatever the truth of it, it appeared both the FA and Chelsea indulged Terry because of his on-field value to them.

Former England captain John Terry Credit: PA Wire

Remember, this is the same FA that rightly climbed in to UEFA for its pathetic response to Serbian fans abuse of England’s black contingent during an Under-21 qualifier there.

UEFA gave a country that was already in football's last chance saloon, yet one more for the road. But the FA's scorn might have carried more moral weight without its recent inconsistent response to similar crimes at home.

The ramifications from the Suarez/Terry sagas were far reaching and long-lasting. Terry’s punishment casts a shadow over football’s anti-racism efforts for example, with various players, led by Rio Ferdinand, refusing to wear ‘Kick it Out’ t-shirts in what was a confusing but very high-profile protest.

Pendleton dons the Great Britain flag after winning gold Credit: John Giles/PA Wire

It also opened the door to unhelpful opportunists looking to exploit this period of uncertainty by floating the potentially counter-productive prospect of a black players' association.

As a backdrop to all this, on the Premier League terraces, the tribal and inexcusable chanting about Hillsborough, Munich and the Holocaust continues, as does fans' racism towards black players.

Accepted, it is far from the behavioural norm but it is still out there. Unless you are a psychiatrist, it is difficult to step into the mind of morons behind incidents like these but football and society should show them the door.

And if this depressing, Christmas litany isn’t demoralising enough, the year ended with Rio Ferdinand leaving the Etihad Stadium with blood dribbling down his face courtesy of a high velocity coin.

He was a couple of centimetres from losing the sight in one eye and it is a measure of how far we have come that his injury created little noise.

Luis Suarez (L) refuses to shake Patrice Evra's hand Credit: Martin Rickett/PA Archive

To an extent football gets what football deserves.

If players guilty of racist abuse receive a ban of just four games, then surely the message is that using the phrase a "fing black c" is certainly not acceptable, but if you are caught, it’s not going to inconvenience you too much.

If football treats guilt so casually it can only promote a behave-as-you-like charter for fans. If the game genuinely showed zero tolerance, rather than just paying lip service and if players showed a little more responsibility when performing in the shop window, then maybe a new level of respect might permeate from the boardrooms, through the teams to the terraces and beyond.

Football has much to give. It wields so much power over so many people.

ParalympicsGB's Sarah Storey Credit: David Davies/PA Wire

The FA’s new anti-racism plan, if adopted, should help but only if there’s a genuine will to make it work from everyone involved in the game.

I don’t share the view that the Olympics and Olympians taught football and footballers a lesson this year. Actually it’s a rather trite argument.

Yes, the majority of competitors and spectators in London were impeccably behaved. The athletes themselves were candid, intelligently spoken and generous with their time to the media and fans alike.

But then this was their four yearly moment. Would they maintain the same patience if there was a camera in their face seven days a week, almost all year round?

How long would the smiles last if their professional and private lives were continually under public scrutiny?

But the Olympics undoubtedly showcased the best of British. And putting national achievement and national pride aside, it proved that elite sport can be played out by competitors of all races from all parts of the world, in front of partisan crowds without a sniff of the toxicity we’ve witnessed on the pitch or heard on the Premier League terraces over the past 18 months. It also proved that sport can influence a nation’s mood.

It is a power that Nelson Mandela identified and tried to harness in his early years as South African president. For football that is a lesson worth learning.