This article by Jasper Oswin was originally published in Portsmouth Point magazine's Olympics edition.
The conversation often starts with the confident opinion that ‘No one can carry this off like the British. Look at the Royal Wedding!’ However, it usually concludes with an angst-ridden “Can we pull it off?’ We are torn between imperialistic hubris and post-imperialistic self-doubt. I love this quintessentially British fusion of optimism and pessimism, our attempt to prejudge our capability to deliver a problem-free twenty-nine days of Olympic and Paralympics Games. Hanging over the nation is the intimidating precedent set by China at the Beijing Olympics of 2008, raising global expectations to an extraordinary level, not least with their spectacular opening and closing ceremonies. Indeed, there is currently much controversy about the extra forty-one million pounds-worth of funding that the British government has found for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics at a time of austerity and cutbacks elsewhere.
The path to achieving this dream of an iconic, problem free, London event began in a smooth vein. The site for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was selected and Great Britain’s hosting was off and running at the sound of the starter’s pistol.
The world watched, eagle- eyed, waiting for Britain’s first slipup. However, contrary to expectations, Sebastian Coe and his Olympics team seemed to be managing everything with exemplary skill and focus. It seemed that there would be no big mistakes, everything would be managed smoothly.
The only problem that no one had anticipated was: Britain itself. Following a peaceful protest in Tottenham, on the 6th August 2011, following the fatal shooting of a local man, Mark Duggan, scuffles between protesters and police swiftly developed into severe disturbances throughout London, including rioting,
looting and arson. These outbreaks spread to other cities in England over several days; at times, it
seemed that the British police had lost control of extensive sections of some of Britain’s largest cities (and the sites of major Olympics events in 2012): London, Birmingham and Manchester. A shocked world was watching and a question arose as to whether the London 2012 Olympics would be safe to visit. A concerned Olympic Committee suddenly had to spring into crisis management mode, trying to convince millions of people internationally not only that order had been restored but that it would remain that way for the forthcoming Olympic event. The rioting had raised serious questions as to the capacity of London’s Metropolitan Police and the police forces of other British cities to secure Britain’s streets for the 2012 Olympics. The after-shock of these violent crimes had echoed around the world, even causing a number of people overseas (and in Britain) to sell their Olympic tickets rather than risk a visit to the United Kingdom next summer.
For Sebastian Coe’s committee, and for Britain in general, this was even worse than had been envisaged at the outset, leaving our hosting of the Olympics perilously on the edge. The thought on so many people’s mind was: ‘We’ve done it! In true British style, we’ve fallen at the first hurdle, cracked under pressure!’
It seemed that not only were we no longer an imperial power, but incapable even of keeping order and harmony in our own country.
However, examples of antisocial behaviour were not just evident on the streets of London, Birmingham and Manchester. There have been recent revelations that many corporate sponsors, with the knowledge of the Olympic committee, have bought their way into taking part in this influential event. These sponsors have purchased places for their staff and customers to run with the Olympic flame, despite a promise from the London 2012 Games organisers to put the public at the centre of next summer’s torch relay. Close to a third of the eight thousand slots meant for “inspirational people” have simply been removed from the equation as a result of corporate greed and self-interest.
I feel, acts such as these shouldn’t be swept under the carpet and confined to the back-page corner of newspapers. They should be revealed to the globe, forcing the committee to follow through with their pledges in order to produce an Olympic Games we can all be proud of: not only boosting confidence in
the economy but creating an uproar of patriotic spirit matching that of the Royal Wedding in April 2011, giving us something to show for the £9.3 billion invested in the Games thus far.
However, it is not all doom-and-gloom. Yes, controversies and problems have shaken us, but let us not forget the fact that the Olympics are coming home to British soil ! I feel a home advantage could give us just the edge we need to walk away with even more silver (or, rather, gold)ware this summer. During the
past six Olympic Games, Great Britain has continuously upped its medal count; statistical analysis suggests that an all-time high level of decorated British athletes is on the cards.
Let’s all hope and pray that Britain’s build-up won’t reflect the final delivery of the world’s finest athletics championship. I believe that Britain can still win a gold medal for the hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.