The London Olympics! The jury’s still out

The London OlympicsPhoto: London Youth Games LtdOne of our readers – a fan of the FT’s Lucy Kellaway, the Pink ’Un’s excellent columnist – admitted that she’d got it wrong in a knocking piece about the Olympics published on the eve of the Games: “The biggest pile of hogwash I’ve ever written.” She suggests – our reader, that is – that we also need to fess up after our own repeated negative comments on the topic. Not so. Ms Kellaway had said that the London event would be a mess. We didn’t say that. Our point was that there are lessons to be drawn from “Olympomania” as observed – by me at first hand, I might say – in Atlanta, Athens and Sydney. Quite apart from how successful a particular Olympics are as a sporting competition, there’s a depressing syndrome which seems to accompany every edition: euphoria when a city gets awarded the Games, a lot of excitement as they approach and, as with Sydney, especially, much joyful backslapping at their “success”... and then an at first slowish but then accelerating period of disillusion and recrimination. No reason to think London will be spared that.

Of course, with Team GB doing so well – 65 medals (of which 29 Gold) – and many spectacular performances Seb Coe was right enough to speak of “wonderful games in a wonderful city” and for a time almost all Londoners seemed infused with the impulse, as urged by Eric Idle, “to look on the bright side of life”. But, we’d wager, this won’t last. Why? For three familiar reasons: first, when the final cost of the event is revealed, and especially in this time of austerity, there will be cause for some deep frowns (it’s still too early for a definitive accounting of London 2012); second, experience has shown that the predicted post-Games tourist boom is unlikely to happen, certainly on the scale some optimists imagine; third, the physical legacy of the Olympics usually fails to be much of an asset: Sydney’s Homebush has turned out to be a white elephant and – less of a surprise – Athens’ venues are rapidly becoming “modern Greek ruins”. And what about the much-vaunted regeneration of the area of East London where the Games were held? Even before the closing ceremony a BBC radio documentary was full of pessimistic voices. As one plaintive cockney put it, “If you ask me, people like us won’t be able to afford to stay here.”