Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Will next Games include the fastest dash round shops?

The Olympic flame may have been snuffed for another four years but - politicians assure us - determination to ensure a fitting Olympic legacy still blazes as brightly as Tony Blair's weird tan.

Some of the suggestions are ambitious, imaginative, laudable even, but most fall at that first grim hurdle of practicality.

Take Boris's argument that every schoolchild should spend an Eton-esque two hours a day in PE. Two hours!

The wee souls will be knackered.

And that's just the teachers ...

You can just imagine the poor kids turning up for Double Chemistry soaked in sweat, hyperventilating, gulping down the dregs of their Lucozade Sport.

That quantum leap from half an hour shuffling around the school gym on a bi-weekly basis to Usain Bolt's pre-Olympics training schedule is just not realistic, Boris.

So let's leave that one hanging on the zipline where it belongs with all the other self-promotional nonsense.

Open-all-hours PE classes aside, what are we to make of that other headline-grabbing Olympic legacy suggestion? Inspiring a nation to shop.

A number of Tories are pushing for legislation which would allow shops - i.e big stores - to stay open longer on a Sunday.

Rules were relaxed during the Olympics period to allow some stores (presumably in London?) to stay open for longer to cater for the massive influx of visitors.

Weighing in against any permanent change in Sunday trading law, however, is an unlikely coalition of God and USDAW.

The churches are opposed for obvious reasons.

The trade unions argue that it would put intolerable pressure upon workers' family lives.

Small shopkeepers, already squeezed almost to the point of oblivion by the giants, don't want to see the rules extended, either.

At the moment they benefit from an exemption which allows them to stay open longer on a Sunday than their 3,000sq ft-plus rivals.

In Sunday trading as in most areas of life, size matters.

So do we, to quote the Olympic motto, really want to see the High Street superpowers grow Faster, Higher, Stronger at the expense of the small corner shops, Sunday dinner and morning service?

The situation is complicated by recession and new trading practices.

At least it might provide more jobs, the pragmatists could argue. The cynics would reply - probably not.

Most big stores are currently cutting back so dramatically on staff at till points, it's a wonder customers aren't obliged to stack the shelves themselves before processing their own weekly shop at these self-service points.

Shopping has become a much more onerous and exhausting business with this new DIY system.

Could the big stores use that very point to help sway the argument with our newly exercise-obsessed politicians?

What better way to promote family fitness, for example, than a Sunday shopping marathon?

It combines walking, weightlifting, the final sprint to a till point and a bit of boxing with the terminal over whether or not you've put an unidentified item in the bagging area.

Of course, in the post Olympic euphoria, we're led to believe that come the weekend, we and our PE-honed young will be down the gym, not the shopping centre, aiming for Mo muscles or out there on our bikes lapping the towpath like Bradley Wiggins.

But during the television coverage of London 2012 it would be fair to wager that beer and pizza still outsold the gutties and Lycra.

And while it would be lovely to think the Games will in future change everything at PE games level, we have such a long way to go I doubt we are likely to see a dramatic difference there any time soon.

So, all considered, a change in Sunday trading regulations is more likely to be a runner.

The most obvious Olympic legacy?

Big stores going for even more gold.

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