Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 22nd February 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The last time that the Olympic Games were held in London in 1948 I was eighteen months old - so I cannot share with you any personal reminisces. But I do know that to hold the Games in a city still devastated by German bombing, and in a country struggling to recover from the after effects of that conflict, was a courageous thing to do. The 1948 Games were a great success attended by huge crowds and in more ways than one the Olympic movement was helped back on its feet by London's capital. Aside from the symbolism of replacing armed conflict between nations with sporting challenge there was also the recognition that the Games had to be wholly apolitical. The previous Games were in Berlin in 1936 and they were used by the German regime as an opportunity to showcase the Third Reich in all its ghastly glory. That Berlin '36 damaged the Olympic movement was beyond question and that London '48 helped re-establish the movement's significance and its principles is also true. So London has an important place in the history of the Olympic Games - a fact which the 2012 London bid team I am sure will have talked about when the Games evaluation committee visited the city last week.

Whilst London has some emotional capital still in its bank from 1948 that is unlikely to be a very significant factor when all the Olympic committee members vote in July as to the venue for the 2012 Games. As a Londoner I very much hope that London will be chosen, but I am still worried that our bid, excellent though it clearly was, will fail for reasons other than the purely practical. As far as facilities are concerned London has a large area of land in the east of the city which is in strong need of rejuvenation. The Olympic Park will transform the area, a factor that the evaluation committee has apparently taken seriously and has welcomed. Indeed it is unlikely that the committee will have been disappointed on any of the practical considerations. Transport, accommodation and sporting facilities available either are, or will be, well up to Olympic standards by 2012. With the new Wembley Stadium, Wimbledon, Henley and even Lord's cricket ground being venues for various events there is a good muster of places with true international sporting resonance in the plan. It's a very good bid and with the clever and well-connected Sebastian Coe heading it up it should have every chance.

In the final analysis the decision will come down not so much to the practical issues - expect the bids from Paris, New York and Madrid (if not Moscow) to be equally proficient - but to emotional and political considerations. In one respect London has a real advantage emotionally, not just its honourable history from 1948, but its unique status as a global city. In the last 50 years or so London has become home to an extraordinarily diverse mix of peoples. One of the British newspapers recently published a map, which showed the extraordinary ethnic mix of the city - virtually every national, racial and religious group is strongly represented. This multi-culture adds hugely to the character of London and it is rarely a source of tension. New York was in the past similarly diverse, but in recent times it seems to me when I have been there that it is more introspective and less inclusive and welcoming (perhaps understandably in the post 9/11 years). Paris is quintessentially French and Madrid proudly Spanish - nothing wrong with that, but they are not international cities in the way that London is.

So we can expect that most if not all of the Olympic delegates in Singapore in July will have positive feelings about London and that many of them will see it as a second home. But London is also the capital of the United Kingdom and in the same way that the Iraq war will have dogged (even destroyed) New York's chance London may suffer by association with the UK's involvement in that conflict. If you are a delegate who believes that the Iraq war was wrong (as many will), and you have on the one side three cities (New York, London and Madrid) from countries that instigated the war and on the other side Paris the capital of one of the most resolute opponents of the war, this may well sway your vote.