Susie Rushton: Don't put our Olympics patience to the test

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The Independent Online

Britons tend to be rather ambivalent about events of Great National Importance. At moments when other nations might respond with earnest enthusiasm, we're often downright cynical: during general elections; at the declaration of war; the opening of the Millennium Dome. Of big sporting events, we're usually more supportive. Until there's reason not to be.

So far, the prospect of the Olympics is still a happy one, just as long as we're not given too much cause to turn off the whole shebang. We've already had our good wishes tested on the long journey from London winning the bid to the opening ceremony. Yes, it's going to cost more than planned; last year's ticketing lottery was shambolic and frustrating. No more enjoyable is the in-depth, and reliably boring, daily media coverage of Team GB's "medal hopes". Then, if you're a Londoner, there are also the prospects of gridlock, rammed Tube carriages, overflowing airports and VIP lanes narrowing our roads. And yet, for the moment, we still remain cheerleaders of the Games. Just.

On the very brink of disenchantment, then, it is with a sinking heart that one learns of David Cameron's plans to make party political capital out of the Olympics. Whitehall press officers have been instructed that, when the torch arrives in Britain on 18 May, they must produce three "good news" stories about the Olympics every day, for three months. The propaganda machine will publicise Government policies that have been publicly funded by Games money.

Somebody in the Coalition hasn't taken into account the natural inclinations of the British public. Until now, the Olympics were a partisan-free zone. We don't like to see our politicians march on to the pitch and claim limelight that properly belongs to others.

I was at a tennis tournament last summer (standing at the back) when an orange-faced man was ushered into the front row at the other end: it took me a few minutes to identify our very own tennis-loving PM, partly because it was a Thursday afternoon and you'd assume he'd be busy elsewhere. "Hasn't he got anything better to do?" was the murmur that went round the crowd. If we get to 27 July thinking the same thing – or worse – about the way the Coalition hijacked what they're calling "Games Time", what should be a joyous event could become a national joke.

That's enough bloke plus baby

Was Victoria Beckham – presenting her autumn/winter collection in New York – upstaged by the arrival of her cute, chubby-cheeked daughter Harper, or her cute, stubble-cheeked husband? Truth to tell, it was the combination of baby plus handsome man that propelled the picture worldwide. For a bloke and his baby is a juxtaposition that still beguiles, three decades after that Athena poster became a bestseller. Undeniably, these couplings are often lovely to behold. But why the surprise? When the sight of a man carrying his own child stops being a novelty (isn't he modern!), we might begin to think society has achieved something like equality of parenting.

s.rushton@independent.co.uk

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