The eyes of the world will be on Britain today, for the opening of the 30th Olympic Games. The time has therefore come to set aside the curmudgeonly groans and grumbles which have accompanied preparations for London 2012, to forgo the attitude characterised by one foreign commentator as the typically Eeyorish response of the British.
Let us forget about the unpopular "Zil lanes", about the incompetence of G4S's security arrangements, and about the irony of promoting sport with cash from the world's biggest purveyors of junk food. Let us overlook the Korean flag muddle, and the signs in Arabic that are actually gibberish, and even the awful 2012 logo. As a nation, we do celebration even better than we do cynicism. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, these will be a remarkable few weeks for Britain. Let us make the most of them.
There was certainly a buzz in London yesterday – one which the rest of the nation has experienced in stages as the Olympic torch made its 70-day, 8,000-mile journey across Britain. It neared its end with a tour of the sun-drenched capital's most famous landmarks, preparatory to a final day which will culminate with lighting the Olympic Stadium's cauldron in the Opening Ceremony tonight. Across London, thousands of volunteers were in evidence on the streets as ambassadors of the Games, ready to guide visitors to the city's sporting, cultural, artistic and architectural highlights. The Olympics celebrates both the pinnacle of human physical achievement and the coming together of nations, rich and poor. Ultimately, however, the success of the event depends on the efforts of volunteers as much as anyone.
We are, of course, rooting for our home-grown athletes and wish them every success. But where Team GB finishes in the medals tables is of no matter. The success of London 2012 will be judged on the smooth running of the event itself, and the mark it leaves behind it, not by a simple tally of gold, silver and bronze.
In one way, at least, the London Olympics are already a triumph. These are the most inclusive Games in history. For the first time, every competing nation without exception – even repressive Saudi Arabia – is represented by at least one female athlete. As to ourselves, Team GB not only contains more women than ever before; it is also expected that, for the first time, they will win more medals than their male counterparts. If, after London 2012, more children are inspired to take up sport, particularly more girls, it would be a fine bequest indeed.
The other, more tangible, legacy is rather trickier. To be judged a success, London 2012 must deliver on the promise of securing an enduring rejuvenation of east London. The Olympics were sold to the nation, in a time of plenty, as an infrastructural investment opportunity. Now, with the economy back in recession and the outlook highly uncertain, it is more vital than ever that the promise is delivered. If the now-splendid Olympic Park swiftly descends into unused, weed-choked shabbiness, the significant outlay by British taxpayers cannot be said to have been well spent.
In fairness, much effort has gone into ensuring the facilities have a viable future, and the Government hopes a series of investment conferences run alongside the Games will also produce billions of pounds worth of business deals. The experiences of previous hosts, however, warn against too much credulity.
But all that is for the future. For now, there is only the awe-inspiring sporting endeavour, the world-class spectacle and the Olympic spirit. Time, then, to sit back and enjoy the show.
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