diamond geezer

 Saturday, May 17, 2003

The local Olympics

So, at last, the Government is backing a bid for the 2012 Olympics to come to London. To be specific, East London. To be more specific, Stratford. To be even more specific, within walking distance of my house (OK, I know that last weekend we established that 'walking distance from my house' could be as far away as St Paul's Cathedral, but in this case I mean less than half an hour away). This is all rather exciting. Normally the Olympics are held somewhere glamorous, like Athens or Sydney or Barcelona. In 2012 they may be held at the end of my road. I just hope they manage to clean the area up in time.

Now, you might think that the Olympics were about sport, but you'd be wrong. The sport bit only lasts for a fortnight. The world's finest athletes descend like a swarm of medal-devouring locusts for two weeks, compete in loads of sports you've never heard of and would never normally watch, and then bugger off straight away afterwards to prepare for 2016.

No, the Olympics are about kudos. Countries battle to host the Olympics so that they can turn smugly to the rest of the world and say "See, we told you we were important." In the last 25 years the United States has hosted the Olympics twice (in fact, four times if you include the winter games). The USA is clearly a very important country - either that or they've been particularly good at bribing the International Olympic Committee recently. The UK, by contrast, hasn't hosted the Olympics since since 1948, and that was only as a hastily-put-together post-war compromise location. 2012 would be the first time London has ever won on its own merits, and not just because nobody else was interested.

But, most importantly, the Olympics are about legacy. It's not so much about how you get there as what you leave behind. Barcelona used its Games in 1992 to implement a wide-ranging urban renewal plan, transforming a decaying industrial city into a sought-after tourist destination. Sydney's Games in 2000 were a world showcase, boosting Australia's economic and cultural confidence (and Kylie's record sales). London hopes to benefit in all these ways and more. Some important transport links that have been stalled on the drawing board for years may finally get built. Some of the UK's most deprived boroughs would at last be regenerated by substantial financial investment. The redevelopment of run-down East London could mean the creation of an impressive 16000 new jobs and 7000 new homes. And most of those new homes would be on the site of the Olympic Village, which it's proposed would be built just five minutes walk from my house. It'd be strange having world class athletes as neighbours, although quite frankly we have a big enough drug problem round here as it is.

There's still two years to wait before a final decision is made, and then a huge bill to pay if that decision is yes, but I hope London's bid is successful. I can put up with two weeks of mixing with weightlifters and synchronised swimmers if that means that afterwards I finally get to live in the world class neighbourhood of a world class city.

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