I have just got back from London after a wonderful day down at the Olympics. The city seemed somehow transformed for the games and the atmosphere in Central London and around the venues was amazing; and I’m very glad that I made the effort to go.
Writing this on the day of the closing ceremony I wanted to reflect on what seems to have been a very special couple of weeks, not only for London but the whole country. When the games were first announced on 6th July 2005 there was a great deal of excitement, yet this was cruelly cut short by the bombs that went off in London the following day. Subsequently the build up to the games seemed to be dominated by negative stories about lack of delivery, lack of legacy and overspending.
As such I must admit that I didn’t really get excited about the Olympics again until I went to watch the torch relay in Bradford. It was only then that it began to dawn on me that the people behind the games actually knew what they were doing and that what was being planned was going to be something special.
This was confirmed for me at the Opening Ceremony which began a process that has continued throughout these games by helping us to update how we as Britons see ourselves. The transformation of the Olympic Stadium from a rural idyll into an industrial landscape told me that we are no longer ostensibly a country of warm beer and cricket on the village green (that still happens, but not for the majority of us); and that we need to catch up with the change that it happening around us. It also told me that we have a lot to be proud of in terms of our history and culture, and that this doesn’t have to rely on looking back to the days of Empire as some sort of golden age either.
Then came the games themselves, and I was rather surprised by what came next. I really got into them! I found myself watching all sorts of sports that I had not previously watched: judo, rowing, diving and gymnastics to name but a few. Of course, I watched most of these because there was British interest, but what I found most compelling were the athletes’ biographies. For the most part they were not well paid professionals who were making a good living from their sport, but extremely dedicated people from all sorts of different backgrounds who have often put four years of their lives into performing at the games. People who have often been through hardship, and sometimes personal tragedy, on the way. Indeed, I’ve regularly found myself in tears watching people achieve their dreams, and how much it means to them.
What has also amazed me is how much the Olympics have affected the country more generally. Of course it is too soon to say whether the games will provide a lasting legacy, but the potential is certainly there. While there have been some fantastic performances by the athletes, the games would not have been as successful as they have been without the crowds at the venues, and the volunteers who have helped make the Olympics so special. I was struck in London yesterday by the huge amount of goodwill that people have invested into the games, and how much this has paid dividends in making London a hugely friendly and welcoming place. There seemed to be a volunteer on every street corner, someone who was only too happy to offer help and engage with people who were going off to support their team.
I have tried to think of a single word that might encapsulate what I am trying to say here, and the nearest I can get is ‘positivity’. This was the atmosphere around London yesterday. The feeling that people were happy to be there. For once the dominant reporting in the media was positive as the good news stories poured out of the Olympic venues. But also it seemed like there was a takeover by those who live out of the limelight. It was not the ‘greedy bankers’, ‘benefit scroungers’, and rioters that came to our attention. It was those who are less newsworthy in their daily lives, the vast majority who really make Britain what it is, who are for the most part tolerant, helpful and selfless (certainly on the evidence of the last couple of weeks).
Through all this I feel that the Olympics have helped me reconnect with being British, and being proud to be so. I think that this is because they have provided us with this opportunity to rediscover this pride for ourselves, not in any jingoistic sort of way but in a positive way that plays to our strengths. That we can be a tolerant and multicultural nation that has the capacity to excel, not only at sport but in putting on a huge event like the Olympics. I have heard it said on a few occasions over the last couple of weeks that the success of the games can help halt a decline that Britain feels it has undergone over the last 60 years or so. I think it can because it has provided new foundations on which we can build.
The organisers, then, deserve an enormous amount of credit for enabling this to happen and for overseeing games that, despite the amount of corporate sponsorship required to be made them less costly, have been hugely enjoyable for the vast majority of people (and credit should also go to the BBC for making them so accessible). It has been a great ride over the last couple of weeks and I cannot speak highly enough of those whose vision has been so successfully realised.
In short, then, I have been greatly inspired by the London 2012 Olympics in ways that I never imagined I would be; and I guess that it is now up to me to turn that inspiration into something real. This blog is about change and I certainly think I’ve witnessed a change in myself and in what it means to me to be British. Only time will tell whether the games will have a lasting positive legacy for the boys’ generation and beyond that matches the atmosphere that has been created over the last few weeks, I certainly hope that this will happen and I for one would like to have a go.