The 2012 Olympic Games begin in London tomorrow. I’ve been fairly cynical about the Games. I don’t want to be. I want to be as excited about my home city hosting the Games as anyone else. I feel I’ve been left with no choice. I object, most of all, to the treatment of anti-Olympics protesters, and of small family-run businesses trying to show their enthusiasm for the Games by appropriating Olympic symbols, usually the five rings. All these things have been discussed ad nauseam elsewhere, and I can add nothing new to that discussion.
Like most Londoners (I still lived in the city when the Olympic bid was being produced and promoted, and when the Games were awarded to us) I could foresee the havoc that would be wreaked by the presence of the Games. London is often a difficult city to travel around at the best of times (my old 8-mile commute could sometimes take as long as 90 minutes, whether by overcrowded public transport or on overcrowded roads). We could all also predict how unpleasant would be the security measures needed to protect the Games against a possible terrorist attack – and, indeed, the deployment of armed police, military personnel and even surface-to-air missile batteries has been a (probably unavoidable) feature of these Games.
There has been a lot of complaining, on Twitter and in the media, about these aspects of the Games. This has been compounded by tales of incompetence (the abject failure of private security firm G4S adequately to hire or train sufficient security staff) or other potential disaster (long queues at immigration desks in Heathrow; threatened strikes by transport unions). Despite the pleas of Games organisers, politicians and many other people keen for us to embrace the Games and show our best side to the world, some (myself included) have resorted instead to a mix of pessimistic cynicism and gloating Schadenfreude. I admit, it hasn’t been nice.
Last Thursday (19 July), the New York Times printed an article headlined (in the print edition): ‘The Olympic Spirit, British Style: When Will This Nightmare End?’
“Whingeing,” the article said, “is part of the national condition.” However, our gumbling about the Olympics had reached, well, Olympic proportions. Egged on by the media, Londoners’ professed levels of discontent seemed to the Times to have exceeded reasonable proportions. Feeling personally attacked by this article, I paused to consider if there was some validity to its thesis. Then, a realisation hit me. What Yankee hypocrites these people were! I tweeted:
I had a most friendly chat with Haberman – a lifelong journalist in his 60s who clearly loved his craft and loved newspapers. He had been amused by my turn of phrase in my letter, and wanted to write a column about whether or not New York had ‘dodged a bullet’ by being unsuccessful in its own bid to host the Games. His column – ‘For New Yorkers, Olympic Loss May Be a Victory’ (which, again, I think only appears online and not in print) – is drawn, in part, from our enjoyable conversation.
I had tried to be balanced in my views when talking to Haberman, and I was particularly keen to say that I knew that there were lots of Londoners who were genuinely thrilled about the Games. I’m not sure I conveyed this well, and I’m not sure it comes across in Haberman’s piece, but I have no complaints at all about the column.
Being called by the New York Times, and getting mentioned in a column, has undoubtedly added a little excitement to my North Devon life this week. Perhaps the Times would like to take me on as a regular analyst on the views of exiled Londoners in rural England. It’s up to you, New York, New YOOOOORRRRRK…
Photo credit: Niall Kennedy, via Flickr