British athletics diary: The foreigner's guide to London 2017 and Britain


British athletics diary: The foreigner's guide to London 2017 and Britain, by Paul Halford

As a public service, Paul Halford has devoted this week's blog to a guide to customs that might be called peculiarly British.

Chris O'Hare-1.jpgChris O'Hare will be among the British Athletics team you will see in London, photo by David Wearn

In any case, enjoy your visit to London. It is a fantastic city, and there are so many things to see, no matter how many times you have been here!

The foreigners' guide to London 2017 and Britain

Whether or not you're coming to London, here are a few things you should know about the 16th edition of the World Championships...

The championships will be a great organisational success

We Brits are generally better known for self-deprecation than singing our own praises - indeed it is hard to believe the term "Great Britain" was thought up by its inhabitants. However, if there is one thing we do shout about being good at, it's staging sporting events.

London 2012 was almost universally applauded in terms of organisation and the enthusiasm with which the British people greeted the event. The venues were packed out - a record 10.99 million tickets out of a total of 11.3 million tickets were sold across all sports in the Olympics and Paralympics.

Five years on, the now renamed London Stadium will be similarly full for the World Championships. Even before the small, final round of seating availability went up for grabs on Tuesday, more than 660,000 tickets had been sold for the event, easily surpassing Berlin 2009's record of 417,000.

There will be loads of British athletes

The largest ever contingent of British athletes for a World Championships has been picked. The tally of 92 means there will be home athletes for the supporters in almost every event and sparks a contrast with the the usual British Athletics policy of setting the bar highly for selection. We even have a shot putter.

We love losers ... and winners too

Brits love a plucky loser and have been known to tear down our winners. As regards the latter, though, it's a little different when it comes to things like the World Championships and Olympics, when a series of successes seem to combine to present an excuse for national pride. But on an individual level, our champions can sometimes end up appearing too much like winners, which perhaps is a big part of why not everyone in the UK is a Mo Farah fan. You wouldn't know that from the roar he will hear inside the stadium, though.

Try a parkrun

If you're not going to the Saturday morning sessions, consider taking part in one of the free 5k "parkruns" - they are held all over the UK and there are dozens in London. Despite the high cost of entering road races in the United States, parkruns somehow haven't caught on there. Remember, it's not a race - despite many people treating it as exactly that and results being published.

Team GB means Northern Ireland too

"Team GB" includes Northern Ireland too and not just the "Great Britain" part. Lobbying to rename it "Team UK" has fallen on deaf ears. This is already complicated enough, so I won't begin to try to explain why England isn't the same as Britain and why the British Isles is something entirely different again - the latter confuses most of us.

Getting out of the stadium...

You will have to form part of an inexplicably long queue around the block when leaving the stadium to travel the relatively short distance to get into the underground network, if London 2012 is anything to go by. This is not just because "standing in line" is a national pastime, but it's a form of crowd control. You'll fit in just fine with the Brits if you just moan and go along with it without rebelling.

Conversing with strangers

Don't be offended if you talk to a stranger and are ignored. The Brits start a conversation with someone they don't know by means of an "ice-breaker" - an "excuse me", comment about the weather or, to a lesser degree, eye contact are some of a wide variety of examples. If you just starting talking at us or ask a question randomly of us as a passing stranger like Americans, for one, are used to, we will assume you must be talking to someone else.

But ice-breaker or not, don't start talking to strangers or make eye contact while you're on public transport in London - you will come across as very weird, the only usual exceptions being if they are carrying a baby or a dog.

Celebrating success

If invited for "a drink" after the evening session, be careful if there are morning sessions the next day. It doesn't mean "a drink" - but could be several. And it doesn't mean tea - nowadays Brits prefer coffee anyway - but something alcoholic.

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