It is a Londoner’s prerogative to be negative and moan about the downside that accompanies all and everything in daily London life. This seems to be the case even when we are told that we are in for ‘A Summer Like No Other’ in July 2012. The natural response is to instantly sigh about the inevitable tube malfunctions, the hoards of quizzical tourists and their complete infestation of our already bustling capital city. It seems that many Londoners have disregarded the main element of the Olympics and forgotten that in a few months’ time we are going to be hosting a truly international event, that prime athletes from the entire world will be coming to our city to push their well-honed abilities to the limits, that the eyes, hopes and expectations of the world will be on the Games, and that it is our city that has been granted this unique privilege.
This is a great responsibility, and one which I know London is more than capable of handling. Although I am sure that many of my fellow Londoners feel the same way, it seems that it is our temperaments that hinder us from leaking some enthusiasm or pride. London managed to supersede the likes of Moscow, New York, Madrid and Paris in four rounds of voting to be chosen as the host city. The selectors showed such faith in our metropolis, I think it’s high time we put our instinctive sarcasm aside and did the same.
London and the various stadiums in the Olympic park are currently hosting the London Prepares series, where various world-class sporting events are being held in the city, also allowing vital tests to take place for the 2012 Games. I was lucky enough to get tickets to attend the Track Cycling World Cup 2012 which took place in the Velodrome, and as well as witnessing world class athletes, this gave me the chance to take a look at the Olympic park for myself.
As an avid and experienced sports spectator (rather than competitor), the event was definitely worth the visit. Although I had not watched or followed track cycling before attending this event, I was immediately immersed in the competition, mainly due to the collective atmosphere of the stadium.
Here I witnessed the majority-British crowd enthusiastically – and rather vocally – support the British cycling team, including the resident superstar Sir Chris Hoy, and it was evident how much of a boost the British competitors received from competing at an international event hosted by their home country. When compared against the polite applause afforded to the foreign competitors, the thunderous response to the British athletes was an extra factor pushing them towards medal rankings. In this way our home support is vital not just for the city of London as a whole, but for our athletes, too.
Critics will here point out the nationalistic elements of this, and frown upon the strain and friction such needless exertion may put upon international relations. What they fail to understand is the true nature of spectatorship. Many competitions have been set up for the sole reason of improving understanding between tense neighbouring countries, and when such rivals compete in large profile events, it presents the perfect opportunity for diplomatic discussions, as effectively demonstrated by the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers during the 2011 Cricket World Cup Semi-Final.
In addition, the family orientated audience of the competition I attended emphasised the event as welcoming and open, rather than exclusive to experts and jingoistic men. This is how I see the Olympics as a whole. You don’t have to have watched athletics, diving or archery your whole life to switch on, tune in and enjoy.
This is another reason why I question some of the distaste surrounding the Games. London is hosting the biggest sporting event in the world; a sporting event in which over 30 different sports are taking place, thus it is catering to a large variety of tastes. It is not as if we are hosting the Football World Cup, because that would simply be dire and I wouldn’t blame anyone for leaving the country in that scenario. Instead the Olympics brings not just sport with it, but the Cultural Olympiad too.
In this way the Olympics also caters for the anti-sports individuals among us. The Cultural Olympiad is a culmination of various programmes and festivities (excluding sports) taking place across Britain which celebrate the diversity of the games. Events include contributions from artists, young film makers, and the much anticipated Globe to Globe Series, where 37 of Shakespeare’s plays will be performed in languages from all the countries competing in the Olympics, including The Taming of the Shrew in Urdu, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Korean and Anthony and Cleopatra in Turkish. In this way the Olympics isn’t just a sporting event but a Festival.
From visiting the Olympic park it is evident that it still requires a lot more tending and beautifying. Although the stadiums are ready, the grounds themselves are still under construction and do resemble a building site. However, instead of getting bogged down by this, it is more important to focus on what that part of East London will look like in less than five months’ time at the end of the regeneration project.
Many readers have probably noticed that I still haven’t acknowledged the factors that have brought bad press around the Olympics. Instead, it is important to remind ourselves that every cloud has a silver lining; that the Olympics will celebrate not just tanned and toned sporting celebrities, but also bring community volunteers and inspirational people into the limelight through the Olympic Torch Relay.
Alongside the theme of Diversity and Inclusion, the Olympics includes 20 Paralympic sports and a Paralympic Torch Relay. Furthermore, the venues for all the Games are not just in London, but spread across England, too. Yes, the London Underground tube lines have been down and out for what feels like millennia, but once the tourism is over we will have shiny new trains and tracks all to ourselves; had it not been for the Olympics, the regeneration probably would not have taken place so rigorously. What’s more, the majority of us will probably get to ‘work’ from home, or work to flexi-hours during this period, and so not have to actually experience the tube during peak rush hours.
When Manchester held the 2002 Commonwealth Games we didn’t hear the locals snide about it. Instead, we saw them come out in masses to support the competitors even in outdoor events amid typical British rain storms.
One thing Londoners are proud of is their truly diverse and international city, and for a few short weeks we are hosting a truly diverse and international event. During this time our city needs us to come together and play along, and I sincerely hope that we do so.
Image from: http://literallife.wordpress.com/2010/01/
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