London could be a stronger Olympic contender than we dared to hope

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The abstract idea that London might host the Olympic Games eight years hence is one thing. Actually to see and hear about real plans for real sporting events in real venues in our own capital city is something quite different. With Lord Coe's presentation of London's bid yesterday, we received the first credible evidence that London might actually have a chance to welcome the world's athletes in 2012.

The abstract idea that London might host the Olympic Games eight years hence is one thing. Actually to see and hear about real plans for real sporting events in real venues in our own capital city is something quite different. With Lord Coe's presentation of London's bid yesterday, we received the first credible evidence that London might actually have a chance to welcome the world's athletes in 2012.

Our rivals have long believed that London is, with Paris, the city to beat. They understand far better than we do all that London has going for it. We have history, going back more than a millennium, teamed up with a live, modern, cultural scene. We have a city that remains in many respects quintessentially British, with dozens of well-known and well-loved landmarks, which has nonetheless acquired a thoroughly cosmopolitan feel. We have parks, monuments, theatres and museums that are the envy of the world.

We need to work (very hard) to upgrade our public transport. We desperately need more Olympic-standard sports facilities. Parts of the city are run down, though not as many as there used to be, and need a concentrated dose of investment. Mainly, though, what we lack is sufficient competitive spirit and sufficient will to win. These qualities were on display in abundance yesterday in Lord Coe's presentation. For a sceptical British public, his pitch was just right.

He said that the needs of athletes would be at the heart of the bid. Exuding the sort of confidence our politicians ought to show when representing Britain's case in Brussels, he said: "We have the finances, planning, expertise and capability to deliver." And for those not already standing in the aisles shouting "bravo", there was the inspirational: "We have the opportunity to change people's lives ... change this city and change the face of British sport for ever."

It is almost miraculous to hear a British official speak in such terms, but this is precisely the enthusiasm that is needed to galvanise a still wary population. And there is good reason for wariness. Think of the redundant Dome, the Wembley stadium project, the aborted plans for a world athletics stadium in east London, the quantity and quality of our swimming pools, not to speak of our national habit of allowing public projects to run drastically over budget and over schedule.

But think also of the success that is the regeneration of London's Docklands. Think, too, of the assets we already have as they were set out yesterday: the accursed Dome re-equipped for gymnastics; the triathlon in Hyde Park, tennis at Wimbledon, football at Wembley, archery at Lord's; showjumping in Greenwich; the marathon route passing every one of London's best known landmarks. And - the pièce de résistance - beach volleyball on Horseguard's Parade! Three-quarters of the tickets would be priced below £50 and include the transport to get there.

The British enjoy a reputation abroad as practical types, unconstrained by overambitious vision or ideology, and good at solving problems. If we could only catch a little of Lord Coe's enthusiastic self-belief, we might not only find ourselves hosting the 2012 Games, but making an outstandingly good job of it, too.

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