If the Olympics goes wrong, blame the moaners


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The Independent Online

When the ever charming Barack Obama welcomed David Cameron to the White House a couple of weeks ago he did so with a generous smattering of English idioms. “Chuffed to bits” he was at the prospect of a “great natter” that would keep the special relationship “top notch.”

Conspicuous by its absence was that most iconic British phrase; “mustn’t grumble.” The President evidently realises what the rest of the world has known for some time. It could not be further from the truth. The great uptake in sporting participation we were promised may not have come to pass, but the games have been a real boon to one of the nation’s favourite pastimes; moaning. Were there a gold medal to be had for Olympic negativity, the other nations wouldn’t even show up, not even the bitter Parisians who, for a glimpse of the Greatest Show on Earth this summer will have to content themselves with pointing a telescope down the Channel Tunnel.

“It’ll be a nightmare,” claims the man or woman in the pub we all know. “The tube will be chaos,” claims his or her friend. “I’m going on holiday and I’ll come back when it’s over,” emphatically state so many citizens of what remains, perhaps for a short time, one of the world’s great cities, at arguably its finest hour in a generation. (Of this last group, a new moan has recently emerged, as it becomes apparent that the Venezuelan Handball Delegation may not in fact be willing to part with half their country’s national debt for the use of a one bed flat in Rickmansworth).

“It’s costing a fortune, we can’t afford it,” is the most common moan of all. Here, they may have a point. The Games are undoubtedly expensive. £9.3bn is a lot of money, and they may yet cost significantly more. According to my calculations, if the entire budget were spent on penny chews there would be enough to fill 31,500 London buses (with the seats taken out). That, in layman’s terms, is about 2 million heart bypass operations, or the entire career earnings of nearly 6,000 teachers.

There is, of course, the inconvenient truth that a vast chunk of that money has been paid to British companies in contracts for construction projects. Then there was the incredulity of the reaction at the extra billions that went on the budget when the government “forgot to include the VAT” – that troublesome tax which it pays from its own coffers directly back to itself. The budget for security has reached an “eyewatering”, “jawdropping”, near on £1bn. Should the games pass without a large scale terrorist attack, this will of course have been a waste of money.

Whether Britons are uniquely unfavourably disposed to the Olympics is hard to quantify. Moaners tend to be louder than cheerleaders in these matters. Public opinion over the Beijing Games remains unknown. Athenians were initially disgruntled at having out to Atlanta for the 1996 centenary games, then suddenly they were all too busy with seconds to spare frantically painting the stadium to worry about it. Now, like a hungover teenager surveying the damage of an unsanctioned party at his parents’ house, they remain haunted by quite what it has cost them. The Australians of Sydney, of course, were almost relentlessly upbeat, but then they would be. 

As IOC President Jacques Rogge zips around a sun-kissed London in his chauffeur driven car over the next few days, his final inspection before the Games begin, it will feel all so predictable when he lavishes praise on everything he sees. But with previous games, this has very often not been the case. For Olympics reporters, the most common moan is how little there actually is to moan about. The venues are all built, and they are fantastic. The future of the Olympic Stadium remains uncertain, but it may yet be so before the Games begin - an Olympic rarity. London’s overall legacy is the best secured in recent history, and will in all likelihood cost the taxpayer substantially less than almost any other host city since the sixties.

It was in fact six years ago this week that, with two months to go before the FA Cup Final, the new Wembley Stadium’s roof collapsed, chicken-licken like on the metaphorical head of the FA Chairman Geoff Thompson. It was a great baptism for Olympic doom-mongering now shown to have been false.

Yes, there are not enough tickets to go round, but as the Locog chief Paul Deighton has said, “We’re not going to apologise for the London Olympics being the most in demand sporting event in history.” The taxpayer, of course, was never promised that his or her generous contribution would be repaid two for the beach volleyball, thank you very much. That demand for rhythmic gymnastics tickets so far outstrips supply is the surest indicator yet that the games will be an overwhelming triumph.

The great irony of course, is that if all those who have said they will disappear for the Olympic fortnight actually did so, it would spare the rest of us the chaos they so fear. But inevitably, they won’t. So when it does all go wrong, blame the moaners.