James Lawton: Hoopla cannot hide the humbug and hypocrisy behind the London 2012 circus

The bid, however we dress it, was essentially a fraud. It came with the claim that it would be a gift to youth and that London was uniquely equipped for the task
  • @TheIndySport

Time, maybe, for a message to any pensive Englishmen and women, particularly if they are Londoners, who fear that any day now they will be hauled off the street and into a dark place if they don't make some gesture in support of the Olympics.

Perhaps, if they are desperate enough for inspiration, they could daub the five rings of the old Olympic circus on their foreheads. The advice here, though, is simple enough. Don't do it. Time is short, admittedly, now that we're one whole day and part of another short of a year before the start of London 2012, but experience gleaned from every summer Games since Montreal in 1976 insists there can be only one grown-up response to their third visit to these shores.

It is of ambivalence, great oodles of it. It is the knowing of what the Olympics can bring but also what they threaten.

Pride, yes, if London can match the performances of, say, Barcelona in 1992 and Sydney eight years later in celebrating both the style and beauty of their environments while also embracing with appropriate maturity the inevitable excitement which comes when the world's great athletes gather in vast numbers and you know the world is gazing in your direction.

But not, surely, if there is a legacy as bitter as those that came to Montreal, whose taxpayers still bemoan the cost, poor, maxed-out Athens and Atlanta, whose Games were described by the not notably unpatriotic Sports Illustrated magazine as no more than a shoddy bazaar.

London may come through beautifully, as Lord Coe, who rescued the Olympic bid out of deep and naive chaos, did in 1980 and 1984, when he was described by Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times as the "young Lord Byron of the track".

Yet whose heart doesn't sink at least to some degree when Coe bombards us wherever we turn with his belief that "sport" is bringing some kind of sublime deliverance to a run-down section of a great old city and the spirit of a jaded nation?

This is not Byronic. It is the purest hype, as are the inflated claims on behalf of the anticipated London legacy by such as the former Olympic minister Tessa Jowell.

Listen to Ms Jowell, as we will have to do with increasing frequency no doubt over the next 365 days, and you would never guess that many of the ratepayers of the Olympic borough of Newham, from the mayor down, are beginning to see the Olympics not as a saviour but a usurping monster.

Or that the promise of meaningful work apprenticeships is proving illusory. Or that crash-coaching courses for local youngsters will, in the opinion of youth workers, be without lasting significance. All this, of course, set against the question that is unlikely to go away: can a financially embattled nation really afford a £12bn diversion, especially when it is told at ever decreasing intervals that this is not a burden but a gift.

While the potentially heroic cyclist Victoria Pendleton tells us that nothing, absolutely nothing, matters to her more than a successful performance, some take a wider view. Unfortunately, though, this throws up the possibility of a collision with something bound to burrow down deeply against the accelerating hoopla.

It is the fact that London's winning bid, however we dress it, was essentially a fraud. It came with the claim that it would be a gift to youth, an opportunity to enhance its horizons and its physical health, and that somehow London was uniquely equippedfor the task.

Such Blair rhetoric came awkwardly from the prime minister of a government which, no less than its Conservative predecessors, had shamefully neglected the young people it now championed so enthusiastically in the glare of the television cameras. Thousands of volunteer coaches and their helpers across the land must have winced at the scale of the hypocrisy.

Paris, let's not forget, should have won the Olympic nomination by the length of the Champs Elysées. Why? Because while New Labour continued the scandal of selling off school playing fields, as English kids rose steadily in the world obesity league, France continued to invest in its young people.

It is why we should remember that in all the preening over the meeting of Olympic building schedules and the frenzy of investment in the Beijing British team after the successful 2012 bid, we remain so far below the standards of care and vision set by France and other leading European nations.

Drive through any town in France and the chances are you will see an Olympic sized swimming pool or running track. It is part of the culture, a right, an assumption still beyond the dreams of most young people here. When that changes, truly, we can talk of the glory of the London Olympics. Meanwhile, whatever Tessa and her mates say, we have no obligation to jump up and down.