Award-winning news correspondent ANDREW GILLIGAN has been the London Evening Standard‘s self-proclaimed hard-line member of the International Olymposceptic Committee. A week in Beijing has transformed his view
Mayor Boris Johnson became the first public figure to articulate the impact that the Beijing Games have had in Britain. “These Games are changing public perceptions of the Olympics,” he told the press. “In London the city is in ferment of excitement about the Games. Olymposceptics are being repeatedly converted.
“People who have never shown the slightest interest in a bicycle race are hurling themselves at their television sets and shouting themselves hoarse with excitement.”
The fact is, Boris is right.
As a hard-line, militant member of the International Olymposceptic Committee myself, I have to confess that the last week or so has been British Olymposcepticism’s equivalent of the Battle of Balaclava, a humiliating defeat from which we Games nay-sayers will take some time to recover. It was symbolised in a very minor fashion by the way in which I found myself, last night, acting as the Mayor of London’s Olympic tour guide.
All the old questions about London 2012’s ridiculous cost, broken promises, draining effects on grassroots sport and limited or non-existent regeneration legacy have been swept away in a tsunami of ecstatic headlines about the “Golden Wonders”, the “Great Haul Of China” and any other pun the newspapers can think of.
Every political party in Britain is now desperate to hitch itself to the Olympic bandwagon. Gordon Brown had his picture taken today with all the British medal winners (one athlete at London House last night suggested, sotto voce, that Mr Brown should be awarded a bronze medal for political leadership).
John Major has been on the BBC reminding us that it was he who started the National Lottery elite sports funding programmes which are credited with Team GB’s success.
Phillips Idowu may have staged a late comeback in our traditional discipline of not coming first. But even from Beijing it is possible to sense the lift which Britain’s extraordinary tally of medals has given the country – and the previously embattled representatives of London 2012.
“My task has just become a lot easier,” said Tessa Jowell, the Olympics minister, sitting next to Boris in the stadium last night. “What Beijing will have done is to remind people what the Olympics are for – it’s been a while since we had this sense of national feelgood.”
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