The 2012 Olympic Games
During the period preceding the Olympics there was some disquiet among the British public. The main concerns were: cost, security, public order, and public transport. For the most part, the doubts of the nay-sayers (I am one of those) were proved in the event to be unjustified.
Cost is the exception. We were promised by the politicians that the Games would cost no more than £2.4bn ($4bn), considerably less than the estimated cost of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 of £28bn ($43bn). The politicians and the Games organisers are now happily crowing that the project came in “on budget” at £9bn ($14bn), a figure the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee estimates to be £2bn ($3.1bn) short of reality. So what happened? The original budget was quickly adjusted upwards when government officials said that they had “forgotten” to allow for Value Added Tax (VAT) levied at 20%, an astonishing admission. VAT is, put simply, a sales tax applied to almost all goods and services with the exception of food (unless it is hot), books, pharmaceutical products, and professional services such as doctors’ bills. From time to time the budget was adjusted upwards until it reached the £9bn ($14bn), the budget we “came in on”. The true, final figure may never be known, or revealed, anyway, to the tax payers whose money it is.
Security was obviously going to be a concern, given that the day after Britain “won” the Games several bombs were detonated in parts of the London public transportation system, both buses and subway trains, killing many people. The biggest peacetime security operation ever was put in place involving the police, the military and a private security outfit G4S that alone was commissioned to provide 10,000 thousand security personnel. In the event, G4S came up short – very short – and police officers from elsewhere in the UK were drafted in to fill the gap, along with soldiers recalled from leave following front-line service in Afghanistan. All, thankfully, went well, except of course for the G4S stockholders.
Public order concerns were heightened by the fact that London and other major UK cities experienced, just a years before the games, several days of civil disorder involving riots, looting and arson. Again, all went well; there were fewer than 200 arrests in and around the Games site.
Anyone who has tried to enter Britain at a London airport, or to move around the city, was right to be concerned that a sudden influx of very large numbers of people for the Games; the transportation system is running at capacity. Hundreds of hastily trained immigration officers were made available at airports, public sector workers were told to “work from home”, and notorious “Zil lanes” were created on roads into and within the capital for the exclusive use of Olympic officials, the so called “Olympic Family”. Things went well by all accounts. But at a price: no-one who didn’t absolutely need to go to London attempted to do so; the millions of tourists who normally flock to the capital in August stayed away in large numbers resulting in empty West End theatres and vacant hotel rooms.
What about the actual Games? We, and by we I mean Britain, did very well – much better than expected, better even than we had hoped – coming third in the medal tables after the United States and China. The final tally was as follows:
Gold Silver Bronze Total
USA 46 29 29 104
China 38 27 22 87
Britain 29 17 19 65
However, and this is the bit I like, if you adjust these results to take into account population size, with the US tally as the bench mark, the following outcome emerges:
Britain 145 85 95 325
USA 46 29 29 104
China 10.5 7 5.5 23
Now, that’s more like it. Disappointing showing from China, though. But, before we all get too excited, look what happens if we apply the formula to Jamaica:
Gold Silver Bronze Total
Jamaica 460 460 460 1380
I think I’ll settle for third place and leave the dodgy statistics out of it, but I expect they’re busy with their pocket calculators in Kingston. You can also apply a formula that adjusts by Gross Domestic Product, but it’s too depressing.
It is noticeable that certain groups excel in particular areas of sporting endeavour: East Africans in endurance running, Afro-Caribbeans in sprinting and so on. There was some discussion of this during lulls in the BBC commentaries, and Michael Johnson made the very fair point that the causes of these differences are probably multi-factorial – culture, environment, resources et cetera – no-one was prepared to consider even the possibility that one of the explanations might lie in the genes. Race in other words. Watching wave after wave of runners, almost exclusively comprising African, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean athletes competing for and taking the medals the thought does occur.
However, no such sensitivities came into play when discussing British strengths. It was pointed out by many observers that the British seem to excel at athletic pursuits that are indulged in while seated: cycling, rowing and equestrian particularly. We are a nation, it was implied, that like nothing more than sitting down. Perhaps there should be some changes to the rules to compensate us for our weakness. If diving, for example, were to be done from a sitting position, would Tom Daley get gold? Doing a double twist with pike and tuck starting from the backside would sort out the sheep from the Brits.
A personal note. I live in, and am a native of, the county of Yorkshire in the north of England, which is geographically the largest but relatively thinly populated. It is also, we would say, the most beautiful county. We delivered twelve medals. On the population adjusted basis demonstrated above we did better than the USA, China and Britain itself. But, sadly, not Jamaica. I look forward to doing even better in Rio in 2016 – from the comfort of my armchair, of course.