I was going to write something about empty seats but isn’t it interesting how all those problems seem to melt away when we are presented with the opportunity to bathe in other people’s successful pursuit of excellence? Regardless of whether the team GB bubble bursts, Saturday 4 August 2012 is a date now engrained in the national consciousness. Day 8 of the London Olympics will be remembered in years to come on some second rate show on channel 243, but there won’t be a way to replicate the feeling of the Olympics turning into something that is happening in our back garden, and something that we feel a very real part of.
I’m not naive enough to think everyone cares about Ennis and co winning six golds in one day, but in both a quantitative and qualitative sense the public feeling of joy has to be proof that, barring a disaster, the whole bid was worth it. Objectively, the success of an Olympics is judged on transport, stadia, ticket sales and other things that can be illustrated on a graph, but that doesn’t make it memorable. This is memorable.
London 2012 seems to be like an elaborate 40th birthday that you plan far too long in advance. A few months after the invitations are signed sealed and delivered you find out that your hours have been cut, and all of a sudden ordering the ‘deluxe’ buffet from M&S doesn’t seem like such a good idea. When the party comes round it is very pleasant and seems to go well despite running out of cups and having apprehensions. But the one thing that banishes any regrets of hosting such a grand affair is the moment your Uncle Tim climbs, intoxicated, on the garden chair to make an inappropriately emotional speech before crashing through the cheap rotting wood. Hilarity ensues and Mastercard’s ‘there’s some things that money can’t buy’ marketing gurus feel vindicated.
A little extra lottery cash helped with the nation’s ‘priceless’ day, but it was always going to be unpredictable. That the ultimate success of the games from a UK viewpoint rests on something as unpredictable as sporting performance makes the £9 billion spent look like a seriously reckless allocation of funds. But in hindsight (or midsight?) it was a snip.
There is an awful lot that can be said to be unhealthy about the portrayal and reception of the Olympic success, from the distraction away from the truly important issues to the psychology of feeling like a winner, despite doing literally nothing. If there is to be an unhealthy obsession though, the pursuit of excellence – in any form – is surely the best to have.