A home Games fit for heroes

Fast backtrack a year, with parts of the UK in flames, rioting and looting, the country seemingly in freefall. How had our green and pleasant land become so unpleasant, even repugnant? And with the Olympics only a year away and the world’s greatest athletes arriving and hundreds of millions of people watching our every move, there was an inevitable and justifiable aura of doom and gloom.

Olympics 100m final
We can be heroes: The London 2012 Olympic men's 100m final gets underway.
Image: Ori Lewis
So how did we turn it round? The cynic in me suggests that it was money, the billions of corporate and government money that bought us love, medals and a logistics triumph (not to mention the 80,000+ volunteers – including myself), or ‘games makers’ as we were spun in corporate speak. But emerging from my cynical skin, there was something quite remarkable about these Games, remarkable inside and outside of the citadels of sport which produced so much drama. The fact was, that for two weeks London became a wonderful place to live. People out there who frequent public transport as I do will testify to the fact that the buses, trains, underground and DLR, whether near or far from a venue, were full of hope not despair. We interacted, helped, conversed and enjoyed. Daily issues which blight our society and which emerged with so much venom a year ago; race, class, hatred, envy, greed, selfishness and violence were wiped off our streets, our buses, our roads, our pubs and our estates by the awesome feats of not only our Olympians (and step forward Mo Farrah and Jessica Ennis for their gigantic efforts) but also by modern folk heroes led by the irresistible Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

When a human being’s run, swim or striking of a table tennis ball arouses senses hitherto the monopoly of great composers or artists, we know we have reached a Utopia where meritocracy trumps colour of skin, class and lifestyle. And that is what happened in London, we became a meritocracy. The best won medals, the rest were awesome too. The rest of us watch with admiration and respect, qualities that were conspicuous by their absence in last year’s inferno.

Surely it is only sport that can make such an impact on people’s lives. I’m sure the chattering classes – conspicuous by their complex analysis of art, literature and music – would argue that the pen is mightier than the fencing sword and it is ideas, literature and jazz music, not volleyball and boxing that shape the world. Not so. Sport’s simplicity and accessibility are perfect entry levels for the likes of Nicola Adams, the young woman from Leeds who took gold at boxing who has won the hearts and minds of the nation. And one year on from meltdown UK, for every youngster from a sink estate who wants to emulate Nicola, and walks into a local gym with a dream of earning gold rather than looting it, we have the raison d’etre for what has been the greatest show on earth.

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