Today it’s the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. The internal debate within the UK is between the sceptics who see it as a London-centric waste of time and (especially) money (at a time of universal austerity) to host an event grown too big for its boots, one that has sold out to its corporate sponsors, and that the cock-ups in ticketing, security, Korean flags and more are merely an omen for disasters yet to come.
The proponents say it will put this country into a great light and showcase British products, skills and capabilities to the rest of the world. The Olympic park was completed to time and budget, the biggest single building project in Europe. We will host a marvellous games, weather permitting, and people will remember the sporting achievements above all else.
On that subject I just wonder how far it would matter if we didn’t win a single medal. This is after all a matter of prestige rather than material gain, but hopefully the world has moved beyond the days when the Olympics were merely a continuance of the Cold War and the rivalry between US and USSR was barely short of blows. The Soviets were pumped full of steroids at a time when drug testing was unheard of, and British victories were memorable by virtue of being counted on the fingers of one hand. We had a few each time, athletes who dominated their event, and are remembered fondly to this day. But most usually we remember athletes for being gallant losers – ours is not a win-at-all-costs culture, and arguably the better for that.
For myself, the ticketing fiasco and the prices charged killed much of my ardour. I did get tickets to take my lad to see Olympic boxing at the ExCel arena and a football semi at Wembley, but like many I suspect what would be most likely to capture the imagination are world records. Wouldn’t we love it if Usain Bolt were to fly from the blocks and win the 100m in 9.5 seconds?
Well I hope everyone has a great time, and that in spite of G4S the world is safe and secure in London. For many Londoners this is the time they take a break from London and get out of town for a couple of weeks to avoid the crowds, traffic, Olympic lanes and chaos. Some of them may rent out their houses, even. Business as usual will be pretty tough for a lot of companies, especially those restricted for delivery times. But somehow we’ll get through it, and the last Olympic games in the UK within our lifetimes will pass into the history books. The memories will be relived at regular intervals.