My scepticism began the day the announcement was made – 6th of July 2005. The date stuck with me not because of the announcement of London’s winning bid to hold the 2012 Olympics, but because of the terror that struck the city the very next day.
London’s first and, I pray, last suicide bombing.
I told myself that day, that whatever happens, come the Olympics, I would not be in London. I feared from the outset that it would become a typical British farce from start to finish. Logistical nightmares, transport malfunctions, delays in building the infrastructure, failures in the provision of healthcare, security and emergency services, as well as airports that wouldn’t cope and so on. Heathrow Airport proved not so long ago with the brand-new, high-tech, super-modern Terminal Five how teething problems can sometimes turn into major root-canal issues.
Some of those fears were realised, and I’m not referring just to the countdown clock in Trafalgar Square that failed on its first day of counting.
G4S, the company charged with providing security, realised and admitted at the 90th minute that they couldn’t employ, train and deploy the number of staff that they had promised to deliver, leaving the British Armed Forces to take up the slack.
Politics within the allegedly apolitical IOC are a permanent feature bubbling at the surface, waiting for the chance to erupt. This year, the XXXth Olympiad was no different. This year, however, it was much closer to home, with the refusal of the IOC and Jacques Rogue at its helm to honour the memories of the murdered Israeli Olympians with a moment’s silence at the opening ceremony on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the massacre.
Pleas from politicians worldwide as well as families of the fallen fell on deaf ears in a campaign that seemed doomed from the outset. The eventual excuse given that a celebratory ceremony is no place for a commemorative event, albeit one in which members of the so-called Olympic Family should have been respected, rang hollow when time, along with a commemorative wall of pictures were instead given to remember family members of the audience present at the ceremony.
The IOC and its chief apolitical politician had a golden opportunity to prove that politics really plays no part in the Olympics, that it really is a family, and that it will never kowtow to threats.
Instead, he accepted the thanks of a known terrorist for his act of cowardice.
I admit; I watched almost none of the Olympics. The reasons were multiple, ranging from political to religious to logistical to the Closing Ceremony just not being my “cup-of-tea”. However, the truth is that I didn’t need to watch anything in order to get a sense of what was going on. The normally stoic British audience came out of their shells in a way probably not seen since the Coronation of the current Queen, although the recent Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee celebrations came close. Facebook updates by friends, as well as Tweets by some who I know personally and many who I don’t, provided not only details of races and competitions, but also broadcast the sense of achievement and pride to a worldwide audience.
If nothing else has been achieved by these Olympics, it has taken the British people by the scruff of the neck, held them up to a mirror and reminded them what it means to be proud of who you are and where you come from.
I grew up in Israel, where national pride is a fait accompli. Where flags are flown not only from public buildings on special occasions, but also from private homes at all times of the year. Irrespective of political affiliation, Israelis are proud to be Israeli – for better or for worse. They have respect for those who serve in the military, even if they don’t agree with some of the missions therein. The same seems to be true of Americans, where the Pledge of Allegiance is said by millions of schoolchildren every day, where flags fly regardless, and where a group of soldiers returning from war will have their drinks paid for by people they have never met.
Britons have, over the past years, even decades, found that national pride was nothing at all of which to be proud. Neo-Nazi groups such as the National Front (NF) or the British National Party (BNP) and, more recently, the English Defence League (EDL), have hijacked the flags, both the Union Flag as well as England’s St George’s Cross, to represent their warped sense of Britishness. Unless there was a football tournament in progress, flying the flag on a car or out of a bedroom window would automatically see the owner of the flag grouped along with the racists of Britain, rather than a person exhibiting national pride.
These Olympics have given those flags back to the people. They have given Britain back its Great. They have allowed the Brits to stand tall, stand proud and bask in the glory of their nation, both in a sporting sense as well as a national one.
I kept my word – I left London on a one way trip three months before the Olympics. Moving back to Israel isn’t a decision I regret, nor do I regret my timing. There is, however, a tingling sense that perhaps I’ve missed out on something almost equally as big.
Meanwhile, in Israel, our athletes have come back empty handed. The Government has promised an enquiry into why our tiny nation, one-tenth the size of Britain and with almost no similar sporting facilities, hasn’t produced any Olympic champions this year. I’d hazard a guess that it’s down to the lack of funding and investment in the sportspeople of the future, along with other factors such as military service putting any aspiring Olympian on an enforced career break.
I’m pretty sure it isn’t down to the lack of national pride – that’s something we have in buckets. And now Britain knows what that feels like too.