2012 was already proving to be a great year, with the birth of my son back in June amidst what was already an impressive programme of sport. George arrived just in time for the England v Sweden game during Euro 2012, whilst Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix, all came and went until the Olympics started two weeks ago. What has happened in this country in those two weeks has been nothing short of remarkable. There is a palpable degree of sadness that the Games have drawn to a close. There is a collective question across the country: “what do we do now!?”
Before now I was quite indifferent about the Olympics, quite sceptical about our ability to stage such a large scale event amidst one of the worst economic crises the world has ever seen. I did not enter a ballot to secure tickets to any of the events, nor did I plan to visit London at any point during the Games. I have to confess that my interest in all of the participating sports other than football was minimal, and so I expected the Games to pass without stirring anything inside me. Alas, all of the talk about the Olympics was mostly scaremongering from a work perspective, with London expected to be completely locked down and rendered logistically incapable, adding to a real sense that the Olympics were becoming a burden, rather than a benefit, to us all.
Only none of the negative predictions about the Olympics came true. Transport ran smoothly. We welcomed people from all over the world and the army of volunteers, who each surely must receive an MBE at the very least, showed Britain in its best light. We have seen an absolutely flawless spectacle that started with the Opening Ceremony in what seems like a lifetime ago, and from then on in, I was absolutely spell-bound. I have never seen anything quite like that ceremony. It was surreal watching this huge spectacle unfold on the television celebrating everything about the country in which we live, watching the most obscure countries arrive at the Olympic Stadium in such wonderful fashion. Suddenly, a huge wave of patriotism came over us, with (Sir) Danny Boyle’s technically marvellous and emphatic celebration of British culture entrancing each and every one of us in a dazzling work of art. From then on, we were hooked.
I took the advantage of being on holiday to take in sports I would never normally watch. Archery, swimming, diving, gymnastics, rowing; I found myself spurring on completely unbeknown people representing Britain in every sport imaginable because of their sheer determination to win. The image of the rower collapsing after giving his all says everything about efforts people went to in order to secure medals for Britain. In years to come I will be showing my son videos of athletes showing the utmost level of determination and teaching him that if you want something bad enough, you can reach inside you to achieve something beyond your wildest dreams if you try hard enough.
This has been the resounding memory over these last two weeks. Jessica Ennis mesmerising us in the 100m hurdles and becoming the best female athlete in the world, Mo Farah easing to a double gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m, Chris Hoy winning his sixth gold to become our most decorated Olympian, Andy Murray destroying the best tennis player in the world, Ben Ainslie becoming the most successful sailor in Olympic history, Usain Bolt showing us why he is one of the world’s most loved sports stars and making sprinting into an art form. There is something so beautiful about watching the most elite athletes in the world at the pinnacle of their respective sports trying their very best to become the best and being quite humble in their achievements. That they did it in this country in some of the best sporting facilities in the world is nothing short of fantastic.
We need to now build on this and develop a legacy in this country for after the Games has finished. If elite sport is properly funded, we can give kids of my son’s generation the best chance to emulate the athletes who competed at London 2012. More than this, we need to take advantage of the sporting successes of our new heroes and ensure that Britain continues to be a leading sporting nation thereafter by instilling sport as a compulsory provision in schools across the country. Private school education is much lauded and not least because of its sporting provision in its schools, something which shows in the medal tables in certain sports. Australia failed to adequately fund and support elite sport after the 2000 Olympics and they are surely ruing that now. There is no point spending billions on a single event if we then fail to ensure that our elite athletes will continue this success in other countries, starting with Brazil in 2016.
Back in 1996 Britain staged the European football championships and back then I noticed a wave of the ‘feel-good factor’; that indeterminable essence you can only describe and that has no physical quality except for that warm feeling inside of you and the smile across your face. Sixteen years later I feel it again, and if there is one regret I have it’s not travelling to London to enjoy the atmosphere at first hand. I have learned that you did not need to buy a ticket to enjoy the Games, but sitting in a London park with people from all over the world celebrating sporting achievement in what turned out to be glorious weather must have been an amazing experience. If I feel like this now sitting in a remote part of rural Lancashire, I can only imagine my thoughts had I visited London during her finest hour. I have the BBC to thank for providing stunning coverage and showing the world that it is the final public service broadcaster in the world. Just like many of our country’s athletes – best in the world. Bravo!!