As a Londoner, I suppose I should be feeling either passionately for or passionately against the proposed bid to host the Olympics here in 2012. Well, I'm not, because I'm a realist and the likelihood of London beating those other Olympic hopefuls – Moscow, New York, Madrid, Leipzig and Paris – to the draw is about the same as me qualifying for the 100-metre hurdles in Athens next year. All I've heard since the news that Mr Blair had given the thumbs-up to the London bid earlier this week is economists discussing how much money the City is likely to make. No one has mentioned sport.
Sydney apparently has reaped economic benefits to the tune of A$6bn in three years and created 150,000 new jobs, including one for my hairdresser Jason. Now that I do feel passionate about. Jason left his home in Australia 15 years ago because, as he told me the first time he shampooed my hair with a groundbreaking new seaweed and fish-oil preparation, hairdressing in the Antipodes was going nowhere fast. To be a sheep shearer down under, said Jason, now that really was a career with prospects, but anyone could qualify as a stylist, which is why he came to London. And then when Sydney bagged the Millennium Olympics, his friend Damian, who worked in a small salon in Manly called Curl Up And Dye, wrote to Jason and said that the place was buzzing, the future was orange and he should get his butt back home soonest and bring some of that fish-oil and seaweed stuff with him. To win an Olympic bid is nothing to losing one's hairdresser.
If by some miracle London did succeed, I doubt I would notice. The plan is to put the whole caboose – stadium, village, heliport – in Hackney, miles away from my neck of the woods. Now this, of course, is manna to my pioneering friends who 10 years ago sold their tiny terraced houses in Fulham to move north to Hackney, where they bought huge Victorian villas with gardens and garages and enough small change for a weekend cottage in Norfolk. They are already totting up how much they'll get from renting their homes to Olympic visitors. If it's anything like the four- or even five-figure sums that people with houses in Wimbledon charge, they'll be laughing.
Then again they may not. Here are some interesting visitor statistics for the Sydney Olympics. The 10,000 or so participating athletes stayed in the custom-built village. The 15,000 accredited journalists and 3,000 freelance hacks occupied the hotels, as did a further 8,000 managers, trainers, drivers, referees, judges, minders and dogsbodies.
It's the number of bona-fide Olympic spectators that staggered me. I had to read it twice, it didn't seem possible. How many people do you reckon actually paid for a ticket, passed through the turnstile, bought a packet of popcorn and sat in a stadium seat throughout the entire two weeks, from the all-singing, all-dancing flame-lighting opening ceremony to the grand finale – a quarter of a million, half a million? Remember the New Millennium Stadium in Cardiff holds 72,000 spectators for one match alone. Believe it or not, only 111,000 people physically went to the Sydney Olympics; the other three and a quarter billion watched it on television.
You can't really blame them. Television screens have become so enormous and technology so sophisticated that unless you have a personal reason to be there (granny throwing the discus or something) you're far better off watching it at home. In 2012 televisual interactive gadgetry will be so advanced you'll be able to compete in whichever event you choose alongside the athletes and then at the finish take on the identity of the winner, sweaty headband, sobbing girlfriend, victory lap, gold medal position on the podium, national anthem, the lot. Seconds later, having selected various menus, clicked on to different programmes and downloaded umpteen attachments, you'll have your own personalised Olympic video game – hours of fun for rainy days.
That of course is the bottom line as far as our Olympic bid goes. If ancient Greece had had British weather, the Olympics would never have been invented. Or if they had, the competitors would not be beautiful young bronzed musclebound athletes leaping and hurling and running like the wind. They would be pallid couch potatoes with beer bellies throwing darts. If Athens 2004 proves a success, why not make it permanent. I might even buy a ticket.
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