Volunteers were cheerful, the atmosphere was good, the trains and tubes and buses ran on time, the events happened… and no one tried to blow it up. The best efforts of my school days ensured I have zero interest in sport and yet we have as a family enjoyed the Olympics and the Paralympics.
I haven’t written about the Olympics because to be honest I haven’t thought of anything original to say. The criticisms of the cost, the over-runs, the hype over a real legacy for health and sport and the corporate takeover, all seem pretty valid. It was infuriating as a Londoner to be told we had to stay away because there would be chaos… until May I worked for the NHS and we had to run a full hospital service, regardless of the extra travel times, increased demand for leave, and all the rest of it. Intensive care doctors can’t work from home. And the handling of the tickets should have been based around maximising the number of people who got something… we got tons for the Paralympics but only badminton for the Olympics.
But then like the nation I have swung behind the East London Sports Day. Partly because, having spent the money, it was better it was a success than not – probably not good for jobs if it failed; and given we had spent the money we might as well enjoy it; partly because of the genuine popular involvement in things like the torch run (but see the corporate takeover point – why cheer a Coca Cola lorry?) and partly because of the skill and modesty of so many athletes… well, something in the air I suppose. I can bah humbug with the rest of them. But it gets boring.
The Opening Ceremony was a triumph. Beijing’s ceremony was the awesome power of people doing what they are told. Ours was a hymn to a free society, open and questioning, capable of imagination and sacrifice, and acknowledging mistakes. (OK overlong and patchy but then a hymn to a free society is not going to be orderly.) It was very British… it had humour and understood history without being imprisoned by it. (I am not sure in what sense it could be described as left wing? Hymns, Shakespeare, Blake and the countryside… )
There will be many lessons about the project itself but top must be; contracting out services to the private sector to lower cost and improve efficiency – and the management of the security was in fact so poor we had to draft the armed forces in. All public sector bodies and politicians please note.
The pervading British pessimism and cynicism that things can’t be done drives me nuts. Its about the only reason I can think of to move permenantly to the States. Moderate scepticism is healthy, cynicism will destroy the world.
Probably the next vast project will be a bit of a disaster and doubtless there will be scraps over the legacy and who benefits. But let’s at least agree we can make things happen, if we want to. More relevant perhaps is, what will we as a country do that will really meet our needs?