Four years ago, I was in Colombia, having fled London to escape the 2012 Olympics. Like many cynical Londoners, I was convinced that the city would grind to a halt, clogged with tourists and others arriving for the Games. I ended up enthralled from across the Atlantic.
I caught glimpses of the opening ceremony on television in a bar in a former colonial town. I caught snippets of radio news reports on the cycling – Colombia won a medal of some sort, but my Spanish didn’t stretch to working out whether it was silver or gold. My sister sent a bevy of texts, which I picked up when I returned to places with reception. Once I arrived in Cartagena, I even logged onto the BBC website and caught up on some of the action.
When I returned to London on the Friday before the Games finished, the streets were deserted. Those attending the Games must have had a very warped view of London traffic and public transport; I’d never seen anything like it and rush-hour no longer existed.
It’s generally acknowledged that the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics were a success and I wish Rio well as it prepares to host the 2016 events.
It was interesting to me – observing from afar; returning just before the end of the Games; attending events on the final Saturday – how an event like the Olympic Games has the power to bring a country together and for people to rub along with something approaching camaraderie. People revelled in sporting success, but also in the success of the Games.
I’m still don’t quite understand why sport is able to do this and why people are happy for considerable sums of money to be devoted to supporting athletes through their years of training. At a time when students face increasing tuition fees and there are cuts in Arts funding, what is it about sport that makes it so acceptable for money to be spent on something that brings such individual glory for what might be a few seconds of performance time?
I’ll be looking out for articles on how Brazil rallies behind the Olympics and Paralympics and people’s impressions of them. And no doubt I’ll be cheering for competitors from the UK and elsewhere – this time, from the comfort of my own home.