Hanging tough: a photographer at the Games dress-rehearsal captured by Julie Blackwell inside the Olympic Stadium
The Olympics are now upon us – today – at long last. After a seven-year wait since London won the right to host the 2012 Games, the lead-up has seemed interminable, whether you are pro or anti the Olympics, or neither know nor care.
The media hype and whingeing (as Simon Barnes wrote in The Times this week) have peaked just before the Games. Now we can get on with it, or get it over, according to your point view. We have had budgeting warnings, security scares, strike threats, and even the wrong flag (and incorrect title) for North Korea (or rather the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as it prefers to be known).
Julie Blackwell, from the Navigate office, attended Monday night's dress rehearsal for the Olympic opening ceremony and reported that we all have much to look forward to – although she and 60,000 other spectators was sworn to secrecy about the content. "The central arena was captivating," she said, "but there was so much going on elsewhere you had to keep looking around not to miss anything – magical."
What do the Olympic Games mean and do they matter?
They matter to billions of people, including me. Sport helps give countries heart and confidence; taking part puts them on the map. They say that only winning counts, but people remember plucky losers, like Eddie the Eagle.
The enthusiasm for the Olympic torch relay has surprised many people. When the torch passed along the A272 through our small West Sussex village (Rogate) on 16 July, people thronged each side of the road to get a fleeting glimpse of the cavalcade of buses, 4x4s, and police vehicles.
The excitement and community spirit were tangible. Everyone was smiling and waving flags and bunting. The uplifting of communities in times of economic trouble is extremely valuable, although this is very hard to represent in financial terms.
Indeed economists have forecast that the financial contribution to UK coffers will be small – at best a 0.2% boost to the economy. In a poll by Reuters in July , 23 out of 27 economists thought the Olympics were unlikely to provide a long-lasting boost the UK economy.
The Government has forecast an uplift of £13 billion in the next four years to set against the £10 billion estimated cost of the Games. The Bank of England has expressed concern that holidays and absences from work during the Games could have a negative impact on production and business.
However, Patrick Foley, chief economist atLloyds Banking Group, has predicted in the Daily Telegraph (6 July) that the UK, and especially London, could benefit by as much as £16 billion from the boost to construction, tourism and the feel good / “happiness’ factor.
Who knows? The economists do not have a gold medal track record in forecasting.
What seems certain to me is that the feel good and well-being effects count just as much as anything. The Olympic Games provide another highpoint in a year when the country has also celebrated the Queen’s diamond jubilee. I will watch the smiles, listen to the applause, and feel surges of emotion (positive and negative) in two weeks which I and billions of others will remember always.