Leading article: A moment for Britain to glory in the Olympic spirit

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was the narrowest of victories. In the end, just four out of 104 International Olympic Committee votes separated London from its closest rival, Paris. And the quality of the overall field - which also included New York, Madrid and Moscow - was breathtaking. This all adds to the lustre of the achievement.

Lord Coe's 2012 team ran a very professional campaign, making sure the bid enjoyed a high public profile. Public opinion in London was initially lukewarm about these Games. But anyone who witnessed the tense atmosphere in Trafalgar Square shortly before yesterday's momentous announcement could be in no doubt that Londoners were desperate for the Games to come to their city. The campaign also made good use of high-profile advocates. David Beckham's support on the eve of the vote in Singapore, for example, was important.

Much of the credit, however, must go to Lord Coe. The circumstances in which he took over the bid last year were not auspicious - the campaign had been slow out of the blocks and Barbara Cassani had abruptly decided she was not the one for the job. At that stage, London was perceived to be third out of the five bidding cities. But Lord Coe's tireless campaigning pulled it back into contention.

Credit must also go to the politicians. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and Tony Blair quickly realised what an asset the Olympics would be, and got firmly behind the bid. Tony Blair lobbied personally in Singapore this week, despite his G8 commitments. And he was the only leader of a bidding nation who attended the launch of the Athens Olympics last year. That was a gesture many in the IOC appreciated. (Incidentally, thanks must also go to the French President Jacques Chirac who did the Paris bid no favours by behaving so undiplomatically in the run-up to the vote.)

But it was ultimately the city of London itself that made the difference. The final video presentation to IOC delegates yesterday made great play of the city's ethnic diversity. This was a masterstroke. London is a true world city, with inhabitants from every nation on Earth and citizens from a huge number of backgrounds. It is hard to think of a city more firmly in the tradition of the Olympic movement, which seeks to bring together all nations under the common banner of sporting excellence.

Hosting the Games gives London an opportunity to improve itself. A deprived area of east London will undergo extensive regeneration. New transport links must be put in place, which should benefit all Londoners. Yet it is imperative Britain gets much more out of the Olympics than a few weeks of sporting entertainment. The Government must be sure to capitalise on Britain's Olympic enthusiasm and use the Games to benefit all of British sport. We are promised a national athletics stadium and an aquatics centre, but Britain must also use this opportunity to build a totally new sporting infrastructure to encourage children to take part.

We should also bear in mind the sorry saga of the Millennium Dome. Letting politicians take charge of large public projects is a recipe for disaster. When it comes to planning for the 2012 Games, our politicians - whoever is in charge - must resist the temptation to meddle. But these admonishments are for another day. This is a time to take pride in the fact that our capital city has received such a powerful endorsement from the rest of the world. This is a time to glory in the Olympic spirit.