Stuart Bathgate: On right side of history at the friendliest of Games
HERE’S how bad it was to cover the Olympic Games of 2012. One night, after the boxing at the ExCel Arena, the shuttle bus to take me back into town was ten minutes late.
That’s the free bus, part of the network laid on for workers at the Games, which used the Olympic Lanes to speed us through the city. The free bus which took me to within a five-minute walk of my hotel. That was as inconvenient as it got at this happiest and most well-organised sporting event I can remember reporting on.
London’s reputation as an unfriendly city was shrugged off, for a couple of weeks at least, as the army of volunteers who staffed every venue proved as helpful and as welcoming as it was possible to be. The real army were the same. Soldiers, many of them Scottish, worked on security at most venues, including the entrances to the Olympic Park itself. They were models of efficiency and politeness.
Remember the panic when it turned out security firm G4S had fallen about 7,000 people short of target? Remember the predictions of traffic chaos? Remember those couple of days before the start when, with thousands of journalists in town and nothing to report on, we seemed to do little but fret about how shambolic and shameful the whole thing was going to be?
None of the prophecies of doom was realised. Surprise surprise, our servicemen and women proved more adept at security than a whole lot of raw G4S recruits would have been. The Olympic Lanes worked, and Londoners proved able to give up their cars for a fortnight. The shambles and shame did not materialise.
The opening ceremony set the tone. At the first Olympics I remember, in Mexico City in 1968, two men made a simple demonstration of support for civil rights – the Black Power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos – and were persecuted for decades thereafter. Here, the Olympic flag was carried into the stadium by a small group that included Doreen Lawrence and Shami Chakrabarti – and Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, not standing on ceremony at all, but strolling round with the rest, wearing the same anonymous white tracksuit.
Ever get the feeling you’re on the right side of history? Here we were, at a Games presided over by a Conservative member of the House of Lords, celebrating the NHS. Celebrating the struggle against racism. And celebrating another small but significant victory in the fight for gender equality, as for the first time every competing country included women in its team.
The sport over the ensuing 16 days was magnificent, of course. But above all, the responsibility for the resounding success of London 2012 lies with the people who worked at it, voluntary and paid staff alike.
Seven years ago, when Lord Coe put the case for London as host city to the International Olympic Committee meeting in Singapore, he said he wanted the Games to inspire a generation. It became the slogan for London 2012.
But really, these Games did more than that. They inspired every generation, and will remain a model for similar events to aspire to for generations to come.
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