As with any order from on high, it is in our nature to obey willingly. Whether it is to charge the Russian guns, go over the top at the Somme, get our arses out of Dunkirk, hit that Normandy beach... we tend to do what we're told, and rarely has it been done without glory.
Now the nation is mobilised for an assault on the 2012 Olympic Games, and it is unpatriotic even to quiver. Sincere apologies to those whose response to the previously listed exhortations was incomparably braver than having to endure an Olympic bid, but enthusiasm for this lot does not come easy.
Now that the campaign is off and running it is incumbent even on the cynics to support it and, certainly, we have to be grateful for any friendly nod in the direction of sport from this Government. And it would have been churlish not to take pleasure from witnessing the celebrations of that packed bandwagon of excited supporters when Whitehall's support was announced on Thursday. One newspaper, which has contributed about a million column-inches to the cause, was particularly triumphant. Apparently, it's the Telegraph wot won it.
Unfortunately, none of the misgivings many of us have been expressing since this enterprise first fluttered its wings have ceased to nag. My main objections are a mistrust of the Government's sporting motives and the wasteful and obsequious Games bidding process itself.
It is true that the process has been commendably cleaned up by the International Olympic Committee since the dark days when bidding cities offered lavish gifts, luxury travel and unbridled hospitality to IOC delegates.
Those days have gone, but not that far gone. Court action is still pending in respect of the scandal surrounding the awarding of the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City. But the new leaders of the IOC have clamped down on the free-loading. No longer can delegates pop in to conduct "fact-finding" tours of competing countries. Visits are strictly controlled, and confined to small evaluation trips.
That doesn't mean that the persuasion is any less unctuous. What was the first thing Tony Blair did once the Cabinet had decided to give the go-ahead? Before his own nation was told, he was on the telephone to the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, in Switzerland to tell him the news personally. Even the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has to start smarming at the earliest possible stage of the proceedings.
Rogge is an impressive man, and his organisation is probably the most powerful sporting body in the world, but is this demeaning courtship necessary? London's rivals for 2012 will be Paris, New York, Madrid, Leipzig and Moscow, and possibly one or two others. In the history of the modern Olympics, there has never been a more prestigious collection of cities grovelling for the IOC's favours. The committee must think they are having a permanent birthday.
Consider, also, the price. London's bid will cost an estimated £17m. Presumably, the others will spend similar amounts, so that's around £100m spent on a contest only one can win. Sport in the various countries will gain absolutely no benefit from that money. There has to be a better way. It would be far more sensible if the IOC used their experience and judgement to select an appropriate city every four years and offer them the Games as long as they can meet stringent conditions.
Two years of fawning and farting about would thus be saved, five or six great cities would not have been led up the garden path and there would be more money for sport's grass roots – or would that be incompatible with the IOC's aims? Alternatively, they could pick a permanent site – ancient Olympia in Greece would be ideal – that would be a fulcrum for the sports world and be in continual use by sportsmen and women from all parts of the globe.
But that's a dream. The reality is that we are stuck with a system that at its worst is open to corruption and at its best squanders time, money and effort at a colossal rate.
Meanwhile, the Government will be pleased to have found some laurels to rest upon, a chance of reflected glory for little outlay. Bread and games were the simple ingredients by which various emperors kept the Romans content, and nothing much has changed.
However, it is not unreasonable, given their record, to suspect that this gesture is not as expansive as it looks. Everyone seems to be footing the bill apart from the Treasury, even though they are still sitting on a Lottery cash mountain amounting to billions. There is an uncomfortable feeling that this will be their sporting contribution for the next 10 years. With solid justification we have been ranting at them for their lack of funding for sport at all levels, and the still unchecked sale of school playing fields – in flagrant breach of a clear election promise. Our children are overweight, the vast majority of them cannot swim, and if they have any sporting motivation they are likely to lack facilities.
This Government would not recognise an Olympic ideal if they tripped over one. But they do know how to exploit sporting success, and the prospect of becoming heroes of the Olympic movement while getting some essential jobs done around the capital for a knockdown price proved too tempting to resist. They must not be allowed further to neglect this country's sporting infrastructure while the Olympic bid takes the limelight. It defeats the entire object.
Let's face it, there have been better motives for wanting to stage the Games. Sydney went for them as a natural extension of their genuine love for sport and what it has contributed to their great country, Athens were desperately keen to renew their historic links with the movement that has its roots in their soil and their culture. The Beijing Games in 2008 will allow China to take an important step toward closer links with the world beyond their borders.
Regenerating the East End and improving London's traffic flow doesn't quite have the same ring. But we must not mock. There was an encouraging report the other day that Blair has ordered his ministers to stay clear of the project. No doubt he's thinking of protecting his troops from a Dome-like disaster, but the project is better off without them.
The search is on for the right person to lead the bid. I fear they will choose from those friends currently at a loose end between fat-cat appointments. I doubt whether we will find the equal of Gianna Angelopoulos, whose drive and dedication won next year's Games for Athens and who has kept the project on schedule despite horrendous problems and continual harassment from the IOC, whose slogan is: "It's our party and we'll pry if we want to".
If Sir Steven Redgrave was more of a committee-room animal and a glad-hander he would do but, whoever gets the job, Redgrave must have a leading role, as must Lord Coe. Olympic bids are not won by the half-hearted.
They are not always won by the whole-hearted either, but to give us a real chance the piecing together over the next two weeks of a crack team, independent of Government tinkering, is essential.Reuse content