There is a mixture of relief and sorrow in London now that the Olympics are over. Londoners can hardly believe the Games went off without any major transport meltdown, organisational blunder, or howling error of curatorial judgement.
We did a pretty good job. It didn’t rain – not torrentially anyway — it wasn’t naff, smug or trite (all major national pitfalls avoided) and the international visitors – and press – gave the Games the thumbs up. The nation was braced to fail, and I think, now it’s over, Brits are stunned by the praise they are receiving.
The Australian newspaper, said that London 2012 was bigger, slicker, almost as friendly and more thoughtfully planned than Sydney — quite a concession. Another antipodean paper said the London Olympics had Sydney’s vibrancy, Athens’s panache, Beijing’s efficiency, and added British know-how and drollery.
The past two weeks have also gone some way to redefining the British national psyche. Firstly, it has showed that you don’t have to go to Switzerland to find punctual, functioning transport. It showed that Londoners are not scurrilous, myopic bankers out to do each other over; by citizens of a conscientious metropolis. It proved that if large swathes of people take to the cycle lanes and the municipality invests in transport, the city functions. We don’t have to be endearingly, self-deprecatingly, incoherently shambolic to be British.
There’s also a shift in British identity itself. We have conceded that we are a multicultural nation; there is a nuance and a sense of ease in this new swagger.
It all started at the opening ceremony; there director Danny Boyle presented a historical trajectory that celebrated the trade unions, the women’s rights movement and the confluence of cultures that make up modern Britain. Not everyone liked it. Conservative MP Aidan Burley tweeted that the opening ceremony was “multicultural crap”.
The athletic heroes that emerged out of the British Olympic effort in 2012 proved pundits like Burley were wrong. The gold medalists that emerged were the result of the Britain’s multicultural pluralism. The Sheffield resident Jessica Ennis is half-Jamaican. Mo Farah who won the gold in 10,000m and 5,000m arrived in Britain as an asylum seeker from Somalia. He trained at the Newham and Essex Beagles. When asked if he’d rather be representing Somalia his reply pretty much sums up his status; “Not at all, mate. This is my country.”