#London2012: What did it mean to you, then?

With barely enough time to catch breath after all those golds, there has been a glut of reflections on how the London Olympics have either redefined or exhibited a new Britishness.

Over at the Daily Mail, Dominic Sandbrook is unequivocal, calling it a rebirth of Britishness:

Coming so soon after the triumph of the Diamond Jubilee, which reaffirmed the deep bond between the British people and our Royal Family, the Games have been a valuable reminder of everything that most of us love about our country.

The New Statesman’s leader reckons that we’ve seen the rise of the new patriotism. (The emphasis is mine – ‘the’ instead of ‘a’ is a pretty prescriptive claim):

The Games have reminded us that a new, post-imperial British patriotism already exists. The London Olympics have been both a resounding sporting and a cultural triumph. Taking place against the backdrop of the Great Recession and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s (as well as one of the wettest summers in living memory), and with the secessionist Scottish National Party agitating to break up the Union in 2014, the Games have helped to redefine notions of patriotism and Britishness. A year after England was ravaged by urban riots, they have been a glorious distraction from our economic troubles and from the squabbling of our fractured, directionless and increasingly unimpressive coalition government.

But the Games have been much more than a distraction – they have created a sense of national unity and purpose and, at times, a kind of ecstatic sociality. The torch relay around Britain showed, even before they began, just how much enthusiasm there was for the Games among the general population. In an age when our lives have become so atomised, the yearning for the shared experience clearly runs deep.

Over at the Telegraph, chief sports writer Paul Hayward enthuses that London’s brilliant beautiful Games was the very best of British:

The triumph was not in Danny Boyle’s conceptions so much as the statement they set out. Britain would be itself for the next two weeks. It would not bend itself out of shape to suit the International Olympic Committee. It would not second-guess what an Olympic host should be but instead impose its identity on the Games. Some of this could be called inventor’s confidence. Still buried in the British psyche is the knowledge that we invented many of these crazy activities. London 2012 brought the Games here for the third time: no other country can match that.


The Olympics were an almighty advertisement for collective effort and shared experience. The binding together so many spoke of was an expression of a Britishness that excluded no one.

Over at the Daily Mail Yasmin Alibhai – Brown gives another perspective on the embrace of Britishness and the potential legacy of the games:

Of course I am not labouring under the illusion that this extraordinary festival of goodwill means racism and anti-immigrant hostility have vanished, and that all playing fields are now level. Or that all ghettoised communities are letting the walls fall. But over these Olympic days, even I found it impossible to stay on my soapbox and lament the discrimination and segregation that too often blights this country still…

There has been much talk about the post-Olympic legacy, about getting the young into sports and the health benefits of doing that. But just as important is the legacy of  Britain’s winning inclusivity.
The Games showed this country’s diverse identity in its very best light, made and re-made by natives and strangers through sheer determination. That should be the true legacy of this unforgettable celebration of human achievement: pride has beaten prejudice. And as a nation, we are all the stronger for that.

Over at OpenDemocracy.net Aaron Peters is more dismissive of finding ‘meaning’ in the games in the face of the ongoing economic issues and what he sees as a crisis of identity:

As Team GB entered the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony on Friday night, it was to David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. The central line from the song struck me as summing up the country’s hopes for its sportswomen and men amid a double-dip recession and seemingly terminal economic inertia – ‘We can be heroes, just for one day’. A concession in the choice of song perhaps that the Olympics represent a temporary, if somewhat spectacular, distraction from an increasingly dire reality that can only intensify over the forthcoming years.

Over at the Guardian, Mike Small doesn’t think much of the long or medium term impact of London 2012 on the Scottish Independence debate (see also Pat Kane and Mick’s chat):

The collapse in British identity witnessed over the past 30 years will not be vanquished by some strong sculling at Eton Dorney…

Now the union flag may be resurrected on the wave of genuine heartfelt goodwill at a superb event, but reality endures. Yes, the Corinthian spirit loomed large. Yes, Team GB excelled at all levels. But come September job losses, NHS breakup and divergence and the private capture of the public sphere will continue apace, as started under Labour, as finished under the coalition. No amount of bunting, pyrotechnics, choreography or dressage can change that.

On the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Tony Blair and Peter Hitchens clash over the meaning of the games and the symbolism of the ceremonies for Britishness and a ‘new Britain’ which you can listen to here.

In his book on Soviet Russia, Imperium, Ryszard Kapuscinski evokes the socio-political caste who only viewed matters from the perspective of what things meant for the Soviet Union – disregarding all local, personal or intimate concerns. Much of the initial post-Olympic emphasis on Britishness seems to miss the more useful values. I suspect that most people who got into the Olympics made an emotional connection with some event or individuals that was grounded in the intimacy of their own life or experiences by identifying with the individual. I’m pretty sure that rarely if ever happens in the Premiership or other big money sports, like golf. Irish golfers excepted, of course, since we are still an intimate enough society that a lot of people can find either a geographic or other link to them (e.g. my sister-in-law worked with Rory’s father).

Two performances stood out for me in the Olympics – Paddy Barnes and Rob Heffernan in the 50k walk, neither winning gold. Barnes hadn’t convinced me he was a genuine gold medal prospect (sorry Paddy) until the 2nd and 3rd rounds of his semifinal which he lost by the narrowest of margins but the Antrim Rd connection made it my highlight. Similarly Heffernans long slog to 4th on the greatest 50k walk ever was mostly unheralded but epitomised that Corinthian ideal more than any overpaid footballer can. Therein lies the real meaning – human spirit and endeavour – positive attributes to stand against the crass commercialism of modern ‘sport’. Forget political allegories and promote the people.

So, who made your heart swell?

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