Liz Galvez   28 Jul 2012   Diplomacy

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So London 2012 has begun and finally the British public seems to have got behind the Games. Some journalists are still niggling away, although the BBC, which is covering all events 24/7, is now taking a positive, not to say positively mawkish, stand. The traffic is still awful but who expected it to be otherwise? There have been a few blunders, like the American athletes’ 4-hour bus journey to the Olympic Village because their bus driver got lost; or the video showing the North Korean women’s football team against the South Korean flag; and one feels very sorry for the Canadian and Australian basketball players who caught the norovirus bug at their pre-Games hotel. The reputation of security firm G4S has been tarnished beyond repair but I suspect that most people are probably quite relieved that British troops and police are guarding the venues rather than a bunch of school leavers with 4 hours training. Le Monde has already had a little dig at the facilities and the Indian Sports Minister has tweeted that some Indian athletes have declared the accommodation at the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010 superior to London 2012.  But these blips will be forgotten in no time and the British can wallow in nationalistic fervour that they know how to put on a memorable show, confident that the Games will be declared the best ever, as Beijing was in 2008 and Rio will be in 2014.

Mitt Romney did GB a favour when he questioned the British public’s support for the Games, describing London’s preparations as ‘disconcerting’.  He had clearly been reading The Daily Mail which has been untiringly pessimistic, at least until Mr Romney put his foot in it. How dare a foreigner come over here and tell us that we’re going to make a mess of the Olympics? PM David Cameron’s terse put-down will have struck a chord with many, even those who usually disagree with everything he represents.  London’s controversial Mayor Boris Johnson is no doubt feeling pretty grateful to Mr Romney for the cheers from the 60,000- strong crowd at London’s Hyde Park the evening before the opening.  But all kidding aside, the public turnout for the Olympic Torch Relay has been remarkable, no doubt helped by some of the celebrities, sights and downright gimmicks that have accompanied the Torch on its way around the UK, but primarily because of the inspired decision to select as torch bearers members of the general public nominated by their local communities.

So what does hosting the Games mean for Britain? One hears complaints about the over-commercialisation and the waste of public money, and the predictable responses about the economic benefits from the regeneration of the East End, new employment opportunities, increased tourism, etc.  But the Olympics are about more than money. They are about showing off to the rest of the world, your country’s ‘moment to shine’ to quote the Torch Relay motto.  

The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland asked yesterday whether it was ‘'time to find out who we are’.  I am no longer privy to the guidance on the official message to the outside world but I would guess that it goes something like this. For the UK, this is an opportunity to display not only that that it deserves its reputation for super-efficient planning and organisation, but that it is capable of extraordinary inventiveness and idiosyncrasy; that it is not only a country of traditions and pageantry but also a country with a ‘quirky’and contemporary approach to life; that it may be a historically ancient nation but it celebrates the diversity of a modern cosmopolitan state. This is not a bad message and with luck, the observers of London 2012 will come to agree.

The chance to show case national assets is not restricted to the host country.  Many other countries have set up Hospitality Houses where their own citizens can watch live broadcasts of events, and others can visit to sample national food and drink or experience a piece of that nation’s culture.  Kenya meanwhile is using London 2012 as a ready-made marketing opportunity, inviting both foreign investors and Kenyan diaspora to come and meet Kenya’s famed long-distance runners and learn about the country’s future potential at the same time.

And finally, of course, there’s the sport. We have invited some 17,000 athletes, the famous and the less known, from over 200 countries to enjoy our hospitality, our culture, our food, and, yes, our unique brand of humour, and in turn they through their own endeavours will make our own Olympic experience unforgettable. So, whoever we are, it’s time to ‘sit back and let the Games cast their spell’

Comments

  • Enzo Guardino (not verified), 05/12/2021 - 09:41

    First and foremost, congratulations are in order to the U.K. for providing the venue for these amazing 2012 Olympics and for the outstanding medal’s tally.

    Thanks for your article Liz; I read it just after it was published but I wanted to wait until the Games were over before commenting. Admittedly, I was a little bit sceptical after the first few days; perhaps, the organisation may have left a little to be desired. There was the G4S security issue, then the Korean flag incident, badminton schedule went awry, ticketing mishaps, etc., etc.

    I suppose they were just teething pains that were to be expected with such a ginormous event and even if they could have been anticipated, Murphy’s Law is always there to make sure something will go wrong anyway. All in all, I think the Organising Committee overcame the obstacles graciously and moved on to making sure things ran more smoothly therein after.

    The after effects of this financial endeavour will slowly play itself out in time. If the powers that be stick to the original plans then maybe it won’t be as damaging as it has been for other nations that have held Olympic or World Cup events. Whatever happens, I truly hope that our EastEnder friends will be left with something tangible and not add to derelict ruins that are already not far from the Olympic Village.

    As to the sporting endeavours of the Games I’m left amazed, bewildered and a bit sad. Amazed because the effort of the Athletes to always go faster, longer, stronger and more precise never ceases to astound. Bewildered because for the umpteenth time in Olympic history certain disciplines such as gymnastics, boxing, diving, etc. were again tainted by poor judicial processing. (for want of a better term). If it’s not politics influencing the scoring then all I can say is that some judges must be deaf, dumb and blind…in keeping with the Who’s closing ceremony performance…anyone remember Tommy. I was hoping for more impartiality from our modern & high-tech world; some things never change…sigh.

    Finally, I’m saddened because it is all over and I feel as if I should have seen more, been more involved especially in the social media arena. Although, there is still hope! The Paralympics are due to start soon and honestly, I can’t wait. I’m sure the emotions will be even stronger given the particular difficulties these extraordinary and heroic athletes have to live with daily. From a sports purist point of view and with [hopefully] less commercialism involved, perhaps these secondary games will show everyone what the true Olympic Spirit is without the need to resort to doping in order to jaw-drop the world.

    My compliments once again Liz…the Olympics are Dead, Long Live the Olympics.

  • In reply to by Enzo Guardino (not verified)

    Profile picture for user Liz Galvez
    Liz Galvez, 05/12/2021 - 09:41

    Thanks for positive comments about the London Olympics, Enzo. Apparently the Paralympics are on track to be sold out for the first time in their history so perhaps you are right about the feel-good factor in the UK. Let's see what happens to the East End over the next ten years. In the meantime, the British media are full of how stories about how the stereotype of the British has been changed, though I think that the Monty Python piece at the closing ceremony will have reconfirmed the idea that the British are bonkers. With luck, more people will have a more realistic picture about modern Britain and who we really are in 2012. Too many young people in some countries are still being brainwashed by the same tired old propaganda that the UK is an imperialist, colonialist, global bully. Time to change the record.

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