The Guardian View On The Economy: It’s Bad

Warnings that the London 2012 Olympics would be a disaster proved hopelessly wrong. Now it looks as if the same mistake has been made about Rio 2016. Perhaps there is a lesson here.

You might think that the nation that gave the world the theory of evolution would be a bit better at learning from its mistakes. Not so. Four years ago, the weeks running up to the London Olympic Games generated a carnival of British negativity.Nothing would be ready; it would all cost too much; the VIPs would hog the tickets; Londoners would be fed up; non-Londoners would resent the whole thing; it was all an expensive folly.

> > The Guardian view on Rio 2016: so far, so inspiring – again

But then the Games started, and everything changed. Thousands volunteered. Even bigger numbers bought tickets; millions were glued to the coverage; our team did well; the show brought us all together; so did the sport. Everything worked. We found new heroes: Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Nicola Adams. Instead of moaning about the games, we found ourselves feeling surprisingly good about ourselves. In the blink of an eye, London 2012 was suddenly the best Games ever; and the doomsters were routed.

True, there have been embarrassments such as the diving pool turning green and some dubious plumbing in the Olympic village
True, there have been embarrassments such as the diving pool turning green and some dubious plumbing in the Olympic village

Rio 2016 is not yet halfway through. Something there may yet go wrong. Yet already a similar about-turn, at least in British attitudes, is in evidence. Before they started, the Rio games were loftily pronounced a disaster from afar. The facilities weren’t ready; a divided Brazil could not afford it; protesters would bring Rio to its knees; the Zika virus would make people stay away; drugs cheats would destroy the games.

All that looks pretty silly right now. True, there have been embarrassments such as the diving pool turning green and some dubious plumbing in the Olympic village. True, some events have been played out to at best half-empty stadiums. But the much larger reality is that the Olympic Games have proved once again that they genuinely capture the attention of the world. Brazil itself, which as the composer Antônio Carlos Jobim once said is not a country for beginners, has gone a long way to silence the sceptics, at least for now.

Most of that – why should anyone be surprised? – is down to the sport. Granted, some of the sports are niche activities, not global pastimes, and some coverage here and probably elsewhere is too chauvinistic at times. But such points have to be put in perspective. Sporting success is something to applaud, not sneer at – and yes, Britain is good at this stuff. Much of the competition in these Games has been unconditionally inspiring. Usain Bolt’s third successive 100 metres gold was a moment when most of the world was watching and cheering as one. In gymnastics, Simone Biles has made herself a global icon. There have been a host of less celebrated feats and moments to treasure too: the first ever gold medals for Fiji, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Singapore and Vietnam; the heroism of the refugee team with its Syrians and South Sudanese; corny moments like the Chinese swimmer’s marriage proposal; and the Irish rowers’ matchless TV interviews.

The Olympics are a global corporation. They are not perfect. It might be better to hold them on a permanent site in Greece – good for the Greek economy too – than to rotate the Games every four years. But Rio is confirming what London taught. The games are worthwhile. They celebrate individual achievement of every kind, not just national prowess. They bring people together far more than they drive them apart. And the peoples of the world respond to them with real enthusiasm. None of that is bad. Memo to ourselves in 2020 and beyond: the Olympic Games will be fine, come what may.

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