Leading article: Ready, steady... go!

The Games is a great chance for this country to win friends and influence people

Sunday 22 July 2012 01:00

This paper predicted that the Olympic Games, which open on Friday, would be "a great festival of pre-emptive whingeing followed by people having a surprisingly good time", and we stand by that forecast. The weather forecast is good too. After drought in winter, followed by rain of biblical duration, and flooding, the sun has been sighted again. And it is expected to be seen more over the British Isles over the next few weeks.

There has been plenty to complain about over the past seven years, since that sweet-and-bitter moment when the London bid triumphed over Paris's, followed the next day by the deadliest terrorist attack on bus and Tube.

Our ComRes opinion poll today confirms the grudging public mood. The 41 per cent who say that they are looking forward to the Games are outnumbered by the 45 per cent who say that they are not – and 30 per cent are "dreading" them. A majority, 53 per cent, say that they will not be "worth the expense in the end", and 64 per cent say that they will "benefit the private sponsors of the Games but not the ordinary people of Britain".

Once the Games start, though, these things have a way of sweeping up the nation. Jeremy Hunt, the minister for the Olympics, is bound to say, as he does today, that "it's time for everyone to put aside the usual British cynicism". But we feel that the mood really is shifting. As for the disruption, it is only a few weeks once every 64 years.

Whether the negativism was a tactical marking down of expectations, or opposition from people who dislike sport or from "ingrates who resent the pervading stink of corporatism", as DJ Taylor describes them today, it is being edged out – involuntarily in some cases – by a growing excitement.

The resurgence of national sporting confidence was assisted by Andy Murray's determined performance at Wimbledon, becoming the first British man for 74 years to reach a singles final. And by Jonathan Marray's less heralded first doubles win for 76 years.

Meanwhile, Bradley Wiggins has become another British star. Not only can he pedal hard but he has the added advantage of being a good sport, who paused to allow competitors who had suffered from the wicked anonymous vandalism of tack-sprinklers to make up lost time.

Nor is that all, for Wiggins coincidentally heralds a renaissance – or possibly a naissance for the first time – of mass cycling in Britain. This is particularly true in London, the Olympic city, which has undergone a subtle transformation in recent years, coinciding with but not entirely driven by Ken Livingstone's bike hire scheme for which his successor takes the credit. Rush hour in the capital now sees a critical mass of cycle traffic, bunched at the front of queues at junctions, changing the tone of the city's public spaces.

And all this time, for the past two months, the Olympic torch has been travelling the country. Remarkably, 10 million people, nearly one fifth of the population, have turned out to see it.

It is time for the country to put its doubts to one side. The Games will be not just a great sporting event, but a great chance for this country to win friends and influence people around the world. The Independent on Sunday wishes all the best to Jessica Ennis, Sir Chris Hoy, Rebecca Adlington, Phillips Idowu and the rest of Team GB.

It is time now for the great British public to have that surprisingly good time.

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