Most of the western world has been hit by recession or credit crunch or whatever you want to call it. These times seem to happen every few decades as far as I can tell.
And so in the lead up to 2012, there were a lot of people complaining about the Olympics. And then there was the Royal Wedding. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Pomp and Circumstance costs money, and we are a nation that likes to complain. There are the anti-royalists. And there were a great many of my friends who just didn’t get the Olympics and Paralympics. I have long loved the Olympics and everything they are about and stand for. I love the Paralympics possibly even more (only they don’t have gymnastics yet).
People moaned as they saw the costs of stadiums and ceremonies. But didn’t they get that those facilities could then be used for many years to come? Edinburgh has a fantastic Olympic length pool with a diving pool, thanks to hosting the Commonwealth Games before I was born. Manchester has an amazing velodrome that’s helped produce the success of a cycling team that won the majority of Gold medals on offer in Beijing and London thanks to hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2002.
It was a sucky summer, but as the Olympic torch went round the country in all the glorious British weather, people began to steadily get involved. Schools and youth organisations were able to educate people on the heroes of past Olympics and Paralympics. The history behind it all, and get kids excited to be healthy and active. Our Guides had a lot of fun doing the On Your Marks sports badge, and one patrol has since done the ‘Culture’ badge that’s part of the same programme.
We worried the opening ceremony would be crap, and ‘it would never compare to Beijing’. An American presidential candidate visited our country and told us we’d never pull it all off (I haven’t forgotten your rudeness Mr Romney).
At a Jubilee we all enjoyed an extra long bank holiday weekend, and gathered to celebrate being British. What fun it ended up being – even for some of those who would happily oust the Royal Family from their palaces. A superb opening ceremony directed by our own Danny Boyle reminded everyone of what Great Britain has contributed to the world in a positive way. We celebrated the NHS. Literature. The internet. Music. Film. And with great pride and shock we watched James Bond escort the REAL Queen to the Olympic Ceremony. We clapped and cheered and suddenly the beauty of all the volunteers, artists, dancers, musicians and more got us hooked. We saw countries we’d never heard of represented in small numbers walk into the stadium with pride and we wanted to cheer them on to, as well as our own.
We saw the Paralympics come home – started by a Jewish refugee escaping the holocaust who used his medical skills to improve the outcomes for soldiers who had been paralysed. And from there, his passion and enthusiasm to use sport as part of the rehabilitation process led to the first Stoke-Mandeville games alongside the London 1948 games.
We could have called the whole thing off. We could have scrimped and lessened the beauty. But everything considered, in hard times, it did what their motto was along… it inspired a generation.
People cheered. People gathered. The nation became a community again. Kids jumped on their bikes, or started flipping or begged to be allowed to join teams or start classes. People were given hope.
I fully agree with Paul Madonna. It can be easy to cut money given to ‘the arts’ in tough financial seasons. But really, if you do that what is left to enjoy and inspire us?
We cut the beauty, and all we’ll be left with is hard times without it.
I’d rather have both than just one.