"Legacy" must have been one of the most overused words in the Olympic and Paralympic lexicon, and it often had an element of sales patter about it. Indeed, many of the claims made for the Games during the bidding and the seven-year preparation were dubious. The cost estimates in the original bid were a fraction of the eventual bill. The regeneration of east London is welcome, but there are parts of the country that need it more. And most of the claims of a boost to British business from the six weeks of the events themselves were a mirage.
Yet now, as the glorious spectacle draws to a close, we can begin to appreciate the less tangible lasting benefits of the Games. Was it worth £9bn of the British people's money? Well, how can you put a price on the national pride and confidence in staging such a huge global event so successfully? How can you quantify the reputational gain for brand Britannia in running such a vast logistical operation so smoothly? None of the fears in which some Britons luxuriated before the Games was realised. There were no queues at Heathrow, no unfinished venues and, after one busload of US athletes got lost 11 days before the start, no crises of people failing to get where they were supposed to be. The private security fell well short, and yet the Army stepped in and the worst did not happen.
This newspaper supported the Olympics and Paralympics right from the off. We knew that the nation would enjoy the festival of sporting excellence once it started, and we were excited by the prospect of improving attitudes towards disability. We were, we hope, properly sceptical about some of the extravagant claims for the legacy, especially the fantasy that the Games would inspire a generation of young people to renounce obesity; and we were critical of some of the heavy-handed rules intended to protect the sponsors (which in practice risked damaging their reputations). But The Independent on Sunday never doubted that the Games would be great once they got going.
Even so, it was not until the Games were under way that the unquantifiable enrichment of our national life became apparent. For any of the millions of people who went to events, it was an uplifting, once-in-a-lifetime experience, one shared by millions more on television. But it was the Paralympics, on which we look back in a special i on Sunday supplement today, that probably produced the most unexpected and most important long-term change. Despite a certain "aren't they brave?" condescension at the start, there was nothing patronising about the enthusiasm of the crowds watching great competitive sport.
That millions of children have watched people with cerebral palsy or without arms or legs doing amazing things was a huge gain for the visibility of people with disabilities – a giant leap forward since Cerrie Burnell took the first small step by presenting CBeebies in 2009.
Worth it? Of course it was, for a Britain that is a better, happier country, more at ease with itself even in tough economic times. The only shame is that it had to come to an end, as Katy Guest laments today.
But never mind. The joys of autumn, the loveliest season, are ahead of us and a new series of Homeland is coming soon. We must take our pleasures where we can.Reuse content