People will run away from the crowds, they said. The tube and roads won’t be able to take it, they said. It’s not worth the taxpayers’ money, they said. Security’s so bad that the army’s been called, they said.
But as soon as the Queen went, “Good evening, Mr. Bond,” Britain and the rest of the world were pulled into a frenzy which lasted 16 days and will stay in the collective memory for much longer.
With all doubters silenced, London 2012 is being hailed as the greatest Olympics tournament ever. Not only for the way the British celebrated all sports, but for the unexpected amount of medals that Team GB won.
The Olympics is not only about sport, it is about bringing people together and that is what London was hugely successful at.
There will certainly be a domino effect — a direct spillage of Olympics success to various facets of life. While it remains to be seen whether England can recoup most of the £10 billion they spent on the games, there is no doubt that the Olympics have had a positive effect on social, cultural and political life.
Firstpost spoke to Adam Shergold, a reporter for the Daily Mail who covered the games in the UK and he seems upbeat at what has been a good year for Britain: “Socially, the British people have felt truly united for the first time in many years. The last 12 months have been extraordinary— this time last year, our cities were lawless and burning in some of the worst urban riots in living memory. Now, we are riding the crest of a wave of unprecedented British success. I also think the Queen's Diamond Jubilee had a unifying effect.”
While admitting that the British are not the most patriotic people around, PA Sport’s Liam Blackburn admits that the Games have acted as a catalyst for the nation: “We’re nowhere near as patriotic as some countries, and I have to say I’m culpable of that, but there’s an overwhelming sense of pride in what this country has achieved in the past few weeks. My concern is that now we head for a big hangover period!”
But what is also beautiful about hosting an Olympics is the legacy it leaves behind. It is well known that Britain suffers from the supreme irony of having the best facilities and the most well-known sportspersons in the world, while not really 'winning'. But with their medal haul and a motto of ‘Inspire a Generation’, that seems to be sorted— at least in Olympic sport.
“I love the fact that the message was ‘Inspire a Generation’. While this may have been the only time the Games will come to our country in my lifetime, it’s great to see us not resting on our laurels and trying to build for the future. So many people have been inspired to take up sport it seems. I don’t think I’ve seen so many bikes around since Wiggins won the Tour de France and the track cycling team did so well again.”
Jamaicans dancing on the street, Indians pouring into the south London bylanes and Americans lumbering into streets— slowed down by traditional British ale. London 2012 was also one big party.
Vimal Vyas, who is a doctor based in London, was part of the massive happiness bubble that covered the city during the Olympics. We asked him whether he thought the Olympics was worth it for the average taxpayer. “Absolutely! We're British and we have a cynicism about everything, we've had nothing but negative news about everything from the climate to the economy to health and this constant drip drip is something that we're used to. But when it comes to it we know that we enjoy a party like no one else and take great pride in hosting it— making everyone feel like they are at home.”
THE BIG QUESTION- MONEY
When London won the bid to host the Olympics, the financial situation wasn’t that dire. But fast forward to now, and it’s precarious. Actually, there was quite some clamour that Britain shouldn’t host the Games at a time like this.
“Perhaps it was a risk. I know there were some sceptical people who complained about the cost, this is Britain and we have to moan about something, but I think they’ve come around. Especially after we won three golds in 44 minutes. You get one shot at it— make sure you make the best of it, whatever the cost, and that’s what we did.” says Blackburn.
Shergold, though, has a more cautious opinion: “The Olympics have only diverted the country from the inescapable truth that we remain in financial difficulty. The Olympics alone cannot solve this. Buried beneath the headlines of success at the Olympics were stories that growth forecasts have been revised downwards, the Eurozone is showing no signs of recovery and we could be in for not two, but three, spells of recession. Still, it was worth it.
“I have read various pundits try to throw cold water on Britain's Olympic flame, but no one could have predicted a slump. If we’d opted out, Britain would be a laughing stock to the world. Look at the financial nightmare in Spain and Italy at the moment and you seem to think that nowhere in Europe but England could the Games be held,” he adds.
John Hawksworth, a public policy specialist and a chief UK economist for Pricewaterhouse Coopers says in this report that the Olympics may not really cost the country as much as skeptics think. In fact, it will provide long term benefits and helps project London as a great investment city. Not only that, but the infrastructure of London has improved to a certain extent and the Games have boosted retail and advertising income.
For a more detailed look into how the Olympics affects England, click here for the Work Foundation's detailed analysis.
Probably the footballers came out the biggest losers from Britain’s success at the Olympics. With their poor showing at Euro 2012, Vimal cracks a popular joke doing the rounds in England: “The opening ceremony cost £27million, Andy Carroll (Liverpool’s largely goal-shy striker) cost £35million.”
Blackburn and Shergold both believe Boris Johnson, mayor of London has come out the biggest winner. While the former believes that the ‘huge cheer’ is significant of his rising stock, Shergold predicts that the “funny, eloquent and intelligent” politician might be a good contender for Prime Minister within a decade.
But David Cameron has also won back some lost love: “A key part of Cameron's manifesto was the 'Big Society' - whereby people would volunteer their time to help their community and each other. It never really happened and was quietly slipped under the carpet… until we saw the enthusiasm of 70,000 volunteers at the Games.”
Cameron has also pledged £125 million of funding per year till Rio 2016 for elite Olympians and Paralympians.
One thing is for sure— Britain is riding a wave of success like never before. What remains to be seen is whether they can carry on and turn this domino effect into something that will inspire more than a generation.
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Updated Date: Aug 15, 2012 11:15:05 IST