Christina Patterson: Olympics could prove to be £9bn well spent

It was nice to feel a stab of pride – for eight years pride hasn’t always been the main thing we’ve felt

Share

For a moment, he sounded like God. For a moment, the 70-year-old Belgian who came to our land, and looked at our work, and said it was good, sounded quite a lot like God. He sounded less like God when he said that he, and other members of the international committee he heads, who were staying in a five-star hotel and going everywhere in very nice cars, were “working class”. When he said that, he sounded like someone who didn't know all that much. But when he said, on Monday, that the arrangements that had been made for the biggest party in the world seemed to be going well, it was hard not to feel that God had spoken. It was hard, in fact, not to feel a little stab of pride.

It was nice to feel a little stab of pride, because in the seven years since he announced that London would be the host of this year's Olympics, pride hasn't always been the main thing most of us have felt. Most of us, for example, felt surprise. We've felt surprised that the name of a year, which is usually just the name of a year, suddenly seemed to be something you had to pay to use. We've felt surprised that you could spend £400,000 on a logo that made people ill. And we've felt surprised that the biggest sponsors of the biggest celebration of sport in the world have been companies whose products make an awful lot of people fat.

We've also felt worried. We've felt worried that the builders wouldn't turn up when they said they would, or that they'd have so many tea breaks that they wouldn't finish. We've felt worried that something that was meant to cost £2.4bn might end up costing several times more. And we haven't felt at all confident that Tube trains that suddenly stop without any reason, and sit in dark tunnels, and do this even when there's a normal number of people on them, would suddenly work really well when there were several million more.

We didn't worry that the people who were being paid £57m to keep terrorists away wouldn't know how to recruit the staff to do this, or train them, or make sure they turn up. We didn't worry about this, because we didn't know you could be paid so much money for something you didn't know how to do, though next time we might be tempted to put in a bid. We didn't worry that the people who work on public transport would demand a big bonus just for turning up to work, and do this by making sure that the people who usually use it couldn't.

We worried about the things we worried about (but not about the things we didn't know you had to worry about) because we wanted to make sure that the £9bn we were spending wasn't just being thrown away. But most of all, we worried about them because we didn't want to be embarrassed. It would, we thought, be very embarrassing to invite the world to a massive party, and encourage people to spend lots of money on flights, and tickets, and hotels, and then find that they spent most of it stuck on a Tube. It would, we thought, be embarrassing if the very big party turned into a very big mess.

And it will be embarrassing, when people arrive at Heathrow and have to queue to get through passport control, because people from one particular union (or the 10 per cent of them that voted to strike) have decided that the best way to get a message to their managers is by giving people who have never heard of it massive delays. It will be embarrassing when people miss the events they've crossed oceans to get to because of signal delays on the Tube.

Some of us are already wincing when we hear newscasters talk about "the Olympic family" and "Team GB". And when we hear that the forecast for the opening ceremony is rain. But when you see the torch being carried down your street, and the people outside your front door, who are black and white and brown, waving flags and smiling, and when you see footage of the first British tennis player for 74 years to reach the Wimbledon singles final also carrying it, and of the mother of a boy who was murdered, who carried the torch to keep his memory alive, what you feel isn't embarrassment. What you feel, and are surprised to feel, is joy. And when you see pictures of a bit of London that was very ugly and now looks very smart, and of buildings that were finished on time, and look very nice, and of soldiers who cancelled their holiday to do the work that paid contractors couldn't find the staff to do, what you feel is what you felt when a 70-year-old Belgian said your city was looking good. What you feel is pride.

And when you see the young men and women, from all around the world, arriving in their tracksuits, with faces full of hope, what you feel, even if you have no interest whatsoever in sport, and didn't think to apply for tickets to see it, is what you could probably only call awe. When you think about the hours, and days, and months, and years, it takes to be not just good at sport, but one of the best people in the world at it, one of the best people out of seven billion, in fact, you can't help being reminded that people who think they can't do much can always do more.

You can't help thinking about the times these people didn't want to get out of bed before the sun came up, and the times they trained even though they thought their body would collapse, and the times they came second, and felt terrible for coming second, and decided that next time they would come first. You can't help thinking about what it's like to try to do the most difficult thing you've ever done with millions of people watching, and knowing that whether you achieved it wouldn't be a matter of anyone's opinion. It would be a matter of pure, unchangeable, fact.

When you see these people, from all around the world, and sometimes from poor families in some of the poorest countries in the world, and think about where they started, and where they are now, what you think is that all is not lost.

You think that some people in the world can carry on thinking that it's good to be famous just for being famous, but many, many other people can carry on thinking that what matters isn't who you are, or if you're famous, but what you do with what you've got. What we'll see, for the next three weeks, will remind us that the most spectacular feats in the world don't cost money. And that, for all the worry and embarrassment, will be £9bn well spent.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

twitter: @queenchristina_

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Among the ‘extreme’ ideas favoured by Neil Findlay is the re-nationalisation of Scottish railways  

Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

DJ Taylor
Bill Cosby dismisses the allegations that have demolished his lovable TV persona as ‘innuendos’  

Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

Rupert Cornwell
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin