London has gone gently and delightfully bonkers for the Olympics, and quite right too. Not only have we seen triumph after triumph from British athletes and stunning achievements from athletes the world over but many of the pre-Games fears and anxieties- about security, about the capacity of the transport system- have proved unfounded. Some criticisms of the ticket sales process, yes, but the park itself is a wonder, from the dramatic stadium at its heart to the wild-flower-lined banks of the river. London has looked a treat, and imaginative, even witty, use has been made of the city as the backdrop for the events based outside Stratford, from beach volleyball to show-jumping. The volunteers have been friendly and helpful, and the armed forces have risen to the occasion splendidly after the G4S crisis unfolded.The opening ceremony was quirky, funny and moving, marking it out from most such events which tend to substitute scale for meaning. The corporate sponsorship inside the park is pleasantly low-key. And transport and infrastructure investment in the east end will form a substantial legacy in itself. Normal life will resume soon enough and we will see then whether other parts of the capital's economy suffered, perhaps from unnecessary anxiety over security and congestion, but for now we should enjoy the spectacle and take a proper pride in our national achievements.
Both the decision to bid for the Games, and their execution over the years since the award was made to London in July 2006, have enjoyed cross-party support. It could not have been otherwise. No-one can deliver a project like the Games without the full backing of government and although this does not and should not limit the proper scrutiny of the budget and delivery, it does mean an effective check on the Games becoming a political battleground. The delivery of the Games survived unscathed the change of Mayor in London and 2008 and the change of government in 2010 ( unlike the Millenium Dome project, which took a fair political battering!).
For it has, of course, taken the full six and a half years to deliver the games sites and organisation, and many more years than that to build the sporting excellence which has taken us to 16 medals and rising at the time of writing. However exciting the raw talent, the quest for gold also requires coaching and access to the kind of facilities which make future champions of the potentially brilliant. Huge strides have been made in recent years and it is essential that the sporting legacy of the Olympic is not allowed to evaporate in the chill air of austerity, whether this be in the form of the facilities that will shape future competitive excellence at the top or the legacy which nurtures sporting interest and enjoyment across the whole of the younger generation. So my one political point is that it is a bit rich for government ministers to complain about patchy school sport provision, when it is they who have cut the funding for school sport by two thirds and abolished School Sports Partnerships. Dismantling the infrastructure which supports school sport and ending the ring-fencing for funding make no long-term sense.
We should bask in the success of the Olympics and, hopefully, the coming Paralympics too. London 2012 as a whole is inspiring a generation of young people, but the Government- all of us- must ensure the support structures are in place for them to follow in the footsteps of our Olympic heroes.