diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ten things boosted by the Games

1) Volunteering: They got a louder cheer than the athletes, the Games Makers. That's clearly the wrong way round, in terms of effort expended over length of time. But I suspect we Britons recognised that these volunteers had committed to something we'd not have done ourselves, and stuck to it, and delivered. Every single one with a smile, most with astonishing good humour - the people we'd like to aspire to be. Expect the Government to leap on this unbridled success and nudges us back towards their Big Society agenda. But it's yet to be proven whether enlisting to save a local library or youth service can ever match the magnetic draw of the Games.
2) Attitudes to disability: We've always known we ought to treat the disabled equally, but for some it's taken the Paralympics to prove it. We've seen that impairment needn't hold you back, and that anything's possible on the right level playing field. We now have nationwide role models respected on an equal footing to their able counterparts, perhaps even more so this week, and every possibility of an irreversible change in national perception. I hope we're mature enough to recognise that not everyone with a disability is superhuman, nor indeed (are you listening Atos?) fit enough for work. But if Britain learns to focus on the positive, not the impairment, these Games will have been an astonishing success.
3) Patriotism: Blimey. If you wanted to hype up spectators at these Games, all you had to say was "Team GB". Games Makers shepherding queues knew this. Commentators at event sessions knew this. A palpable sense of national pride was always evident, especially at the Paralympics. Grans in red, white and blue headscarves, mums with flags, kids facepainted with Union Jacks... they'd cheer anyone on the GB team even if they had no hope whatsoever of succeeding. It's not often an event comes along that so grasps our innate national faith, and it's not certain something quite so cross-generational ever will again. But the message is clear - stick the right flag on it, and we'll support anything.
4) The Armed Forces: Ditto Our Lads - there's also been collective love for them. Drafted in because G4S were initially so incompetent, it soon became commonplace (even comforting) to see the Armed Forces on duty. Even when they slipped into those otherwise empty front seats we didn't complain, we deferentially cheered. And some of us have got so good at passing through airport-style scanner checks this summer that I fear we've been fully softened up should martial law ever be imposed.
5) Security: We feared it, but it never happened... an unexploded package, an unexpected outrage, some unspeakable terrorist event. Maybe none was ever scheduled and all that money spent on prevention and rooftop missiles was utterly wasted. Or maybe gangs of evil schemers really did plan to sneak into the Olympic Park with volatile liquids concealed in water bottles and combine them in secret to create a makeshift explosive and kill us all. The only people who know for sure will never tell, but don't expect the perceived risk to ever go away.
6) Public funding: A lot of private companies have been involved in organising the Games, most very successfully, a handful not. But the Games would never have happened without a large whack of taxpayers' money (or they'd have become a shabby pastiche devoted to flogging 'stuff'). I'd like to argue that over-staffing has been one of the most important contributory factors to a successful summer. Wherever you looked there were six volunteers where there could have been two, or three security guards for the price of one. Britain can't always afford such excess but, when an immaculate job needs doing, only public money can bypass the profit motive and concentrate on service.
7) London Transport: There were long queues at a few stations at some times, and traffic on Bow Road was definitely cloggier than usual. But the expected transport chaos never materialised, not in any significant manner, despite the IOC's major misgivings way back during the bid stage. The tubes flowed, the buses rolled, and those Games Lanes didn't choke the capital in the way Londoners had feared. Don't underestimate the years of transport planning that went into making all this possible, right down to the optimal positioning of the five thousandth magenta sign. And we too played our part, as we adjusted our commutes in sufficient numbers to make space for everyone else. London's transport network ends the Games enhanced, and few would have predicted that.
8) Boris: Mr Johnson's had a good Games, hasn't he? A grinning face on a global stage, a jovial word for every occasion, even a fortuitous zipwire dangle. That's the joy of having a predecessor with vision, and a large team behind you in whose reflection you can bask. That's also his nationwide profile significantly lifted. I always suspect Boris would rather be President than PM, because that's less effort, but the latter's maybe rather closer after 2012.
9) Sports that aren't football: So it turns out there are other sports we enjoy watching, something other than the Premiership, who knew? Sports in which the players aren't paid a fortune, and sports in which talent and training count for more than bling and hype. It's hard to know whether there's an all-year audience for dressage, wheelchair rugby or handball - one suspects not. But if only the BBC were still broadcasting Grandstand, we'd have a much better chance of finding out.
10) London: Whatever the world thought of us before, whatever jam-infested joyless bunch of bankers they had us down for, that global perception's changed. We're fun, we're emotional, we're creative, we're damned well organised... and above all, we deliver. And that might just be worth the £9bn pricetag, you never know.

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