The Peter Corrigan Column: Well done, Mr Blair. Now it's time for real action

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The Independent Online

Sport, which has the habit of side-stepping tragedy, is carrying on regardless. It is part of our determination not to be seen flinching. Apparently, our enemies will not feel they got a result unless some sporting fixtures are cancelled. But the going on of the show obviously could not include Seb and the gang taking a series of curtain calls, and by the time something like normality returns it will be too late for backslapping. They will be heavily into the preparations for 2012 and all the difficulties they present.

However, even though the carousing and the cartwheeling were so cruelly cut off, there is no reason for the detractors not to emerge from the woodwork and declare where they stand now. Since I was one of the suddenly sparse number who argued against the bid, I can confirm that the woodwork has been very uncomfortable since Jacques Rogge announced the decision at lunchtime on Wednesday.

I did not join in the general delirium, but that doesn't mean I did not welcome the decision. We do not register enough sporting success for any of us to smother a patriotic surge at a victory. "Amazed" would probably be a more accurate description of my reaction, because I thought the bid campaigners had left these shores with even less chance than the Lions had in New Zealand; and I did not rate their prospects very highly.

Although tempted, I am not saying that the wrong lot have their tails between their legs. Winning the right to stage the Olympic Games has been hailed as the most inspiring moment in British sporting history.

It certainly has the potential to recreate the leading role Britain once had in world sport. No nation has a greater sporting heritage and no nation has been forced to watch the roots of their heritage wither so alarmingly. To be suddenly handed the incentive to reverse this long neglect has to be a blessing. Why, then, should I have been so lukewarm about the prospect over the past two years?

My disquiet was based mainly on two matters. Firstly, I despise the entire bidding process as wasteful and unnecessary. Secondly, I have grave doubts whether this government have a gen- uine commitment to make the most of this opportunity.

My basic Olympic belief is that the Games should be housed at a permanent site, preferably in their homeland of Greece, where the purpose-built stadiums and facilities would be available for use all the time. If that cannot happen, and I don't see why not, the IOC should offer the Games every four years to the city they consider to be most suitable. After all, they know exactly what is required. Demanding that all interested cities enter a long and complicated bidding process creates an enormous amount of expense and effort and leaves all but one of them defeated and forlorn.

The bidding has been considerably cleaned up since the days of back-handers and unrestricted lushing up, but it still must have cost the candidate cities in excess of £150 million, plus a demeaning amount of grovelling.

And what swayed them? According to reports from Singapore, the clinching factors were the convivial presence of Tony Blair - who shook far more hands than the carping Jacques Chirac - and the stirring eloquence of Lord Coe.

Two years of hard and expensive work by five of the greatest cities in the world. Compiling dossiers running to thousands of pages, lobbying world-wide, making costly videos, enduring grand inspection tours by nitpicking evaluation committees - and it all comes down to a talent contest on the final day.

No wonder the French were pissed off. Their investment in sport and facilities has for years been so superior it should make our politicians blush, and their bid had been considered technically better. Then they were pipped at the post because of the wavering whims of a few impressionable delegates.

All praise to the passionate optimism of the London bid and the final flourish of their presentation, but people who know about these matters assure me that had the terrorist attack hit London two days earlier the decision would not have gone our way.

I have been to only one Olympic decision and that was in 1997, when Athens were awarded the 2004 Games. I had been a supporter of their bid because, as the birthplace of the Olympic ideal, I felt they deserved to have the Games back. It wasn't easy for them, but the clinching factor in their bid was the persuasive charm and power of Gianna Angelopoulos. Their traffic was worse than London's, they had Europe's worst pollution problems and their improvement plans were ambitious to say the least.

I paid several visits to Athens during the intervening years, and never were they far from a crisis. At one stage the IOC threatened to take the Games back to Sydney. It was a nightmare I would not like to see us go through. Winning the Olympic Games is not so much a prize as being given a ticket to ride the most scary switchback in sport.

Largely thanks to the relentless Mrs Angelopoulos, Athens made it. Her health suffered, but my colleague Alan Hubbard tells me she looked wonderful in Singapore, where she offered Coe the advice: "Be prepared to sweat, to bang tables."

The tables that need banging are situated in Whitehall, and they are already dented by the bruised fists of sporting administrators trying to get an increase in the miserly funding of sport. The present administration are not the only ones responsible for the situation, but they have shown no genuine concern about our crumbling sporting infrastructure. Their action has never caught up with their promises. We cannot question the Prime Minister's contribution to winning the Games, but it is from now on that his real worth to the cause needs to be calculated. The Government were slow to board the campaign bandwagon, and the suspicion is that the attraction was the opportunity to regenerate the East End and cure London's transport problems.

These are very worthy aims, but a devotion to the Olympic ideal requires a far more basic nurturing of sport than they have previously shown. It has been clearly recognisable for years that sport is the only medium capable of injecting more vitality into our waddling population. That long-term priority will now, I fear, be thrust aside and over the next seven years the emphasis will be purely on getting London ready for 2012.

That, certainly, is where the money will go. The funding already spoken of, including the new Olympic Lottery, will go solely towards the capital costs. The preparation of our flesh and blood must not be ignored, and investment is badly needed at all levels of sport if we are to create the new generation of sportsmen and women that London's bid highlighted.

The money set aside for our élite was already inadequate. Now it looks meagre, and if we are to harness a new enthusiasm for sporting participation, especially in schools, an immediate rethink on sports funding is vital.

Winning the Olympics is not going to be a solution to our sporting problems if the Government see it in isolation. It could even be a distraction.