Olympic golden glamour delays economic woes: Phil Davison, in Madrid, tells how post-Olympiad Spain faces old problems

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The Independent Online
HANGOVER remedies are ten a peseta in Spain. But 13 Olympic gold medals may have cured, or at least delayed the biggest hangover of them all.

How to cope with post-Olympic political and economic reality was the hottest issue facing Felipe Gonzalez's ruling Socialist Party, his right-wing opposition and left- wing critics, the regional authorities in Catalonia and those in the host city itself, Barcelona. Euphoria over the unexpected gold medal count, however, has pushed the nation's pending problems until manana or beyond.

Had the Games ended in any form of terrorist disaster, or even peacefully but with minimal Spanish sporting success, the knives would have been out to varying degrees, responsibility denied, the country's economic woes quickly back in the headlines. With the Games' success, the protagonists were already promising yesterday either to claim credit or ensure that no one else did.

'This is no longer the land of the siestas,' said one TV commentator, suggesting that the stereotype image was now out of the window. 'We have come out of this stronger in global terms,' said King Juan Carlos in a newspaper interview. 'We must now maintain the tenacity and will to succeed that we have shown the entire world.'

'Spaniards showed their collective identity and maturity,' said a spokesman for Mr Gonzalez, almost 10 years in power, but slipping in popularity as the country's economic problems rise.

His main opposition, the conservative Partido Popular (PP), could hardly muscle in on the credit. So they did the next best thing, warning the government against cashing in on a sporting event. 'From the sporting point of view, the Games were very positive,' a PP spokesman said. 'But one swallow does not a summer make. Spain has very serious economic problems. The government should not try to gain political benefit from this sporting event.'

In a way, some form of failure of the Games would have made things more clear-cut. As it was, a quote from a Spanish politico- sociologist, in the daily El Pais yesterday, was about as definitive as anyone could get. 'The general satisfaction over the Games could play into the government's hands. Or it may not, because people may ask themselves why that came out so well while other things are going so badly,' he wavered.

The Games undoubtedly did a world of good to the image of Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain. While the Mediterranean city and autonomous region showed their organisational capability and welcoming nature, the nation as a whole had a chance to show its growing sporting prowess. On the domestic level, the Games, notching record TV audiences nationwide despite earlier arguments that they had been 'hijacked' by Catalonian nationalists, lifted the gloom of recession and corruption.

The Games were 'a magnificent platform to relaunch the idea of unity among all Spaniards,' said the newspaper Diario 16. For many, it was hard to believe that, at the opening ceremony on 25 July, King Juan Carlos received such a warm welcome in the Montjuic arena where he had been booed by Catalan nationalists, albeit a minority in the crowd, only three years before as he inaugurated the same stadium.

At the end of the 25th Olympiad, the King may have been the biggest winner of all. Already popular as a unifying figure, he gambled on tapping the nationwide pulse from the moment he opened the Games in the Catalan language with his 'Benvinguts tots a Barcelona' (Welcome everyone to Barcelona). Elsewhere in the country, notably in Seville, there were those watching TV who whistled in derision. But by the time he had been seen at every other sporting event, smiling, cheering and inviting Spanish athletes into the royal box, he had silenced all but the harshest hecklers.

Ironically, the King's personal victory has led to something of a backlash among independence- minded Catalan hardliners. Harking back to fears in the rest of Spain of the 'Catalanisation' of the Olympics, Catalan hardliners complain that the ubiquitous and telegenic King helped turn the tables by 'stealing back' and 'Spanishising' the Games.