I was one of the Olympic miserablists. I have to put my hand up and admit to having been one of the sour-faced curmudgeons who who was going to have nothing to do with any of it. Except for a peek at the ladies’ beach volleyball, of course.
The whole thing is vastly overblown, a huge circus of hype that plenty of Brits were already heartily sick of by the time the Olympics finally rolled around. There are events that some of us have difficulty seeing as competitive sports, such as the horsey stuff and the girls with the twirly ribbons on sticks. Pretty and admirable, but sport? I don’t know.
In the event, the Olympics turned us whinging Poms (as I believe we’re referred to Down Under) into dancing, singing optimists for a couple of weeks, starting with the lavish opening ceremony that immediately had a Tory MP complaining about its brazenly socialist slant. Fair enough, it celebrated plenty of British achievements, hardly mentioned any wars, oddly omitted Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish slavery, and dramatically forged one of the Olympic rings to a backdrop of satanic mills while also championing the health service. Is that specifically socialist? Not from where I’m standing.
The eye-watering amounts of money poured into the whole thing are less than comfortable considering Britain is a nation seeing its health service and much else we hold dear under attack. The reported £27 million for the opening ceremony and a further £13 million for the closing ceremony would have paid for a good few hospitals, many police officers’ salaries, many tons of schoolbooks, keeping Coastguard stations open, etc, not to mention museums, orchestras, galleries and the like. The list can go on of what’s wrong with Britain today and where the government austerity drive is leading, and at what cost.
In fact, £40 million instead of those two ceremonies probably wouldn’t have been more than a drop in that thirsty ocean. More importantly, if the dosh had been available, would it have been spent on something worthwhile and deserving, or frittered away on new chairs and soft furnishings at the headquarters of the Ministry of Double Glazing?
In fact, I didn’t spend two weeks glued to the box, and wasn’t in any queues to see any of the Olympics in person. I watched about half of the opening ceremony that had some of even the worst cynics billing and cooing with pleasure, a few highlights here and there and something like a third of the closing ceremony. I didn’t even get to see more than a few minutes of the beach volleyball being played out in the sand on Horse Guards Parade.
I have to admit it, it’s heartwarming to see people who have trained for years achieving their goals, standing on a podium with tears running down their cheeks, just as it’s gut-wrenching to see the disappointment of people who have struggled and pushed themselves just as hard but lost out, sometimes knowing that this was their last chance and they’ll be too far behind the competition by the time the Rio Olympics take place in 2016.
The whole thing was better than I had expected. Did it fill me with a warm glow of national pride? Well, Eric Idle’s turn at the closing ceremony did – far more than the dubiously welcome return of the Spice Girls. Maybe I’m just not patriotic enough, or maybe my sporting instincts are better honed than I had imagined, so I can take pleasure in seeing an unknown outsider coming from nowhere – like the Ugandan who won the final marathon event and was awarded his gold medal at the closing ceremony – regardless of the colour of the flag concerned.
In fact, it’s remarkable how the two weeks of running and jumping has made Brits temporarily into a largely united nation of optimists bursting with national pride. Now it’s all been over for a week, that’ll soon start to fade into history and we can go back to tutting about the weather as usual.