Originally written for publication in The Student Journals.
Before the Olympics began, I was determined to despise them. Increasingly infuriated by the organisers’ heavy-handed protection of their brand, multiple security lapses and the seemingly inevitable upcoming public transport chaos, I was ready to crawl in a hole and wait out the entire awful spectacle.
Yet, a few days in, rather predictably, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of the Games. I’d caught the bug and I wasn’t alone. Other social outcasts (we prefer the term ‘cynics’) joined me in ‘celebrating sport’ and ‘getting behind Team GB’. Credit must indeed go to the organisers and athletes for drawing so many in.
But now this unexpected bout of patriotism and interest in sport has started to fade, my scepticism is making a comeback. I’m left wondering whether this has indeed been the very expensive party I thought it would be initially – all be it one that I’ve enjoyed. There is much talk of legacy from the organisers. But what does any of it actually mean?
I certainly wouldn’t be the first to point out that games of the recent past have not provided long-term economic benefits for their hosts, and are unlikely to do so for us. When we do accept that we’re not going to profit from the Olympics, the debate then becomes one about whether the social benefits of the games have been worth the considerable price we’ve paid for them.
A sporting legacy seems hard to define. We keep hearing that young people have been inspired to be more active and lead healthy lives. Some may well have been. However, I suspect that the positive messages emanating from the athletes have been somewhat offset by the perfectly (and cynically) targeted sponsorship of McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Profits of these companies are going up whilst sports funding for comprehensive schools is being cut. Fields are being sold off as fast-food outlets are multiplying. There’s a high chance that if kids want to ‘relive’ the Olympics, it’ll be much easier for them to stroll into an ‘official Olympic restaurant’ than on to a well-kept running track.
Perhaps the legacy is something more profound. Many, including myself, have delighted in the athletes’ reclaiming of the Union Flag from the far right. A Somalia-born refugee won double gold for Team GB and when he was asked if he’d rather have been representing Somalia, he (now famously) replied, “Not at all mate. This is my country”. The flag has temporarily become a celebration of diversity, rather than the ominous backdrop to a BNP party political broadcasts. This should of course be celebrated. However, my inner-cynic (which is quickly gaining on my rather more optimistic Olympic self) worries that our new-found national pride will fade over the coming weeks. Indeed, a lacklustre closing ceremony may well have kicked this off.
The Games have certainly got people watching a wide variety of sports. Talk of interest in cycling overtaking football is of course, ridiculous. Nonetheless, we have enjoyed watching eloquent, witty and humble individuals like Belgium-born Bradley Wiggins represent us, as opposed to the likes of John Terry. Unfortunately, our interest – and, perhaps more importantly, the media’s interest – in these sports will not continue without the games. The football season is starting again in a matter of days and Gary Linker will not be anchoring other athletics championships any time soon. The 2012 Olympics truly are a one-off.
It has indeed been an amazing few weeks. What’s more is that it’s not over yet – we still have the Paralympics yet to come. But it’s got to go. I can’t shake the feeling that any talk of legacy is either political posturing, wishful thinking or a combination of the two. All that said … I was cynical before and I was wrong. If we’re still smiling at the achievements of Team GB in a year, I’ll eat my hat. But I’ll do it with a smile.