I have avoided writing about the Olympics, for the same reason that I never Tweet about football. I’m one of that small minority who are just not very interested in sport, apart from (in my case) the Marathon (in which I used to participate at a modest club level), and hare coursing, which sadly was banned by the Hunting Act. That said, I am always delighted when Britain does well, at sport or anything else. And my, didn’t Britain do well this time. Twenty-nine Gold Medals for the athletes, and there should perhaps be some gold medals for the organisers too.
I’m afraid that I was one of those fearing the worst before the event. The G4S fiasco. Predictions of traffic chaos. Sponsorship police beating up on local traders. Ticketing problems and empty seats. Even the weather forecasts were bad (though we should know by now not to trust the weather forecast). And by the way, why did Mitt Romney get such a bad press for his comments? He was only feeding back the rather negative news coverage in the press at the time. I suspect that the British media seized on his comments, however measured and reasonable, as a fig-leaf for their anti-Republican bias.
But never mind. The Cassandras (in the press and elsewhere) were proved wrong, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the organisers, the athletes, the sponsors (yes, the sponsors), the planners and performers of the opening and closing ceremonies, the police, the armed forces who stood in for G4S, and of course that other army, of volunteers. They did a marvellous job. I was in London during the Games (although not to attend them) and I was astonished to be greeted at Saint Pancras by a Virgin employee dressed in the rather becoming pink and lavender of the volunteers. He offered me an ice cream. “Why?” I asked. “To welcome visitors to the Games”, he said. So I ate the ice cream.
But I have to say I’m a bit bemused by all the talk of the “Olympic Legacy”, and by all the politicians who seem to be jumping on the band-wagon. Of course most people in Britain feel their spirits lifted by this great and successful event. There’s a sense of national pride in the air (and I imagine some chagrin in Alex Salmond’s office). But frankly I doubt that the euphoria will last much beyond the next credit card bill, when reality kicks in again.
I’m sure that a lot of youngsters will want to try their hand at something. Bike shops may do a good trade for a few months. But the school playing fields we sold off won’t come back, and while the government has guaranteed funding for élite sports, I don’t see them finding significant new money for school sports in the current environment. Meantime Cameron’s hurried initiative to offer two hours of physical activity to primary school pupils seems poorly thought through and inadequately resourced.
So I was pleased to hear a Chambers of Commerce representative putting some flesh on the bones this morning. A billion people (give or take) around the world have seen London landmarks on the television during the Games, and shared in the excitement. That must surely do something for tourism in coming months and years. Then there are all the British companies involved in delivering the management, the venues and so on. They will be touting for business wherever great events of this kind are planned. And they have a successful track record to talk about (except, of course, G4S). There are the Olympics in Rio and beyond. The Winter Olympics. The World Cup in Rio, and Russia, and Qatar.
The man from the Chamber was urging that British Embassies around the world should put on Olympic exhibitions to keep the memory alive, and to promote both tourism and venue creation and management. These are solid ideas that on the face of it seem likely to deliver results. Let’s hope they’re carried forward.
But if Cameron and Osborne think they’ll be swept to re-election in 2015 on a wave of Olympic euphoria, I think they’ll be disappointed.