This post has been inspired by the announcement of the detailed route that the Olympic torch will follow around Britain next year – or, rather, by the comments that appear beneath the story, and the memories they inspired of so many other comments sections under so many other Olympic stories over the last few years.
Do you remember when it was first announced that London was going to put in a bid to host the 2012 Olympics? You might remember all the people who said that it was a total waste of time putting together a bid, because there was no way the event would ever come to the UK.
Then London won, and without even stopping to draw breath, let alone acknowledge that they had called it completely wrong, those same people immediately started saying that the games were going to be a complete fiasco, that none of the infrastructure would be ready, that the 2004 games in Greece would seem a paragon of efficient organisation by comparison, and that Britain would once again be humiliated on the world stage (this last said with a weirdly masochistic glee).
Then the infrastructure was built, with all the key venues being handed over by the builders more than a year in advance, and without missing a beat those same people started saying that there was nothing to celebrate in the successful completion of all these white elephants which would be mostly empty because people in Britain had no interest in the games. It was something the political elite wanted, but ordinary, sensible Britons couldn’t care less. As with the games in Beijing, the organisers would end up having to bus in paid ‘fans’ just to make the venues seem half full.
Then the tickets went on sale, and demand was so overwhelming that, for many events, they had to be distributed on the basis of a lottery. After the dust settled it became apparent that these were going to be the first modern Olympics to completely sell out. Demand for tickets was so huge that sports most people in Britain haven’t even heard of sold out. Rather than venues for popular events like the men’s 100 metres being empty because nobody cared about the games as an idea, the games were so popular as an idea that people were prepared to shell out hard cash to watch a sport the rules of which they didn’t understand, just so they could have the ‘once in a lifetime experience’ of attending an Olympic games.
So now all this has happened, and all these confident predictions of doom have proved wrong, have the whingers learned their lesson, and stopped complaining? Have they hell.
– Having complained bitterly that the venues were too big for the likely level of interest (and the organisers were idiots for building on such a pharaonic scale), now they complain that they’re too small (and the organisers are idiots for underestimating demand).
– Having ranted interminably that there were too many tickets (and the organisers were idiots for expecting to sell any at all), now they rant interminably that there aren’t enough (and the organisers are idiots for not magically inventing a ticket-distribution system that would have allowed everyone to go to the events they wanted, even though some were oversubscribed by ratios of hundreds to one).
– Having expressed smug satisfaction at the thought that the blame for the inevitable Olympic fiasco will be a mortal humiliation for the capital, out-of-Londoners now complain it’s not fair that the praise for the expected Olympic triumph will go mainly to London.
– Having complained that the games would mean an unbearable disruption to the ordinary life of the capital, and that an already over-full city would be stretched beyond breaking point, Londoners now complain that non-Olympic tourists are scheduling their trips to avoid the games-related rush.
– Having complained about the cost of the games to the public purse with an intensity that would make you wonder if they were being stabbed in the eye with a rusty penknife each time a pound was spent, now they complain that the games are too corporate, apparently failing to realise that, if they weren’t prepared to see the money come from public sources, the only alternative source was private companies.
…and that list’s by no means exhaustive…
I know I shouldn’t complain. If there is any human pastime more pointless than whingeing, it’s whingeing about other people whingeing. And I’m not sure I even should complain, given how much self-evident pleasure people get from it. You could make the case that the Olympics have already proved themselves worthwhile thanks to their success in giving the kind of people who are never happier than when they’re whingeing something to whinge about. If only whingeing about the Olympics was an Olympic sport – Britain would be a shoo-in for gold.
What about me – do I think the London Olympic games, and the way they’ve been organised, are paragons of perfection? No, of course I don’t.
– I regret the fact that ‘regeneration’ of the Olympic site has turned out to mean ‘gentrification’, with allotments and other facilities used by working class people being replaced by million-pound-plus apartments. (Think how much stronger the ‘legacy’ of the games would have been if the athletes’ village were to be redeveloped afterwards as social housing – but this would have required additional public money, something it would have been impossible to provide in the climate of relentless whingeing.)
– I concur with those people who point out that, had we been able to predict the future, we probably wouldn’t have bid to host the Olympics that coincides with the worst financial crisis in almost a century (or, if we had, we’d have planned much more re-use of existing facilities).
– I join in the deep sense of national embarrassment at the festival of superlative naffness that is the ‘cultural Olympiad’. (Seriously, we’re already a country with a cultural reach far out of proportion to our size, and we host many internationally famous cultural festivals on a regular basis. The plasticized version of culture proposed for the Olympic festival will only look bad in comparison.)
– I share the fears of those who are concerned that the ‘legacy’ of the games is likely to fall short of the organisers’ hopes, and that the state-of-the-art sporting venues are likely to be under-utilised once the games are over. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that local sports clubs will have the use of world-class facilities, but if the goal was better sporting opportunities for the people of east London, we could have achieved it a lot cheaper.)
But there is, I think, a difference between recognising these things, and becoming a flat-out whinger. I regret aspects of all kinds of things, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to the fact that there can be good mixed in with them. And the good things about the Olympics are pretty easy to recognise, aren’t they? I mean, the games may be very corporate, but at their heart will be a collection of people trying as hard as they can to do very difficult things to the best of their ability, and for very little financial reward. (A notable contrast to millionaire footballers, and a timely reminder, in the current economic climate, that money isn’t the be-all and end-all.)
We have to celebrate that, I think. Even those of us who (like me) will watch very little of the Olympics have to recognise that there is something important and admirable in human beings trying to push themselves to the limits of their capabilities. I don’t want to get too pretentious about this, but it’s really quite important, I think – we are where we are, in every area of human existence and endeavour, because of the people who tried to see if they could push a little further than anyone else had gone before. Sport is only one aspect of this drive, of course – and you could make the case that it’s not even a particularly good example: the form of constant striving for improvement stripped of any meaningful content – but it seems to me that the drive itself is central to what makes us who we are.
Well, I could write about this, and my witless theories for what might lie behind it, endlessly, but I think I’ll spare you. (That noise you can hear is 650-odd words on the difference between optimistic and pessimistic people, and why they’ll never get along, hitting the cutting-room floor…) One final point I will make, though.
You see, while I can just about get my head round the fact that the pessimist/ optimist divide might alter the way different people think about things that haven’t happened yet, I can’t for the life of me understand how anyone, optimist or pessimist, can fail to recognise when their predictions repeatedly fail. That’s the thing that really gets me about the Olympic whingeing – that people have been consistently predicting disaster, and have been consistently proved wrong, but never update their future predictions in the light of their repeated experience. At some point the cumulative inconsistency between prediction and reality has to reach the point where the people making the predictions can’t ignore it, doesn’t it? How often can someone be proved wrong before they end up having to admit it, even to themselves?