Belfast Telegraph

The Olympics could yet prove to be £9bn well spent

By Christina Patterson

For a moment, he sounded like God. For a moment, the 70-year-old Belgian who came to our land, looked at our work and said it was good sounded quite a lot like God.

The International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge, sounded less like God when he said that he, and other members of his committee, who were staying in a five-star hotel, were "working class".

But when he said, on Monday, arrangements for the biggest party in the world seemed to be going well, it was hard not to feel a little stab of pride.

It was nice to feel a little stab of pride, because in the seven years since he announced London would host this year's Olympics, pride hasn't always been the main thing most of us have felt.

Most of us, for example, felt surprise. We've felt surprised that the name of a year, which is usually just the name of a year, suddenly seemed to be something you had to pay to use.

We've felt surprised you could spend £400,000 on a logo that made people ill. And we've felt surprised the biggest sponsors of the biggest celebration of sport have been companies whose products make a lot of people fat.

We've also felt worried. We've felt worried that something that was meant to cost £2.4bn might end up costing several times more.

We worried about the things we worried about (not about the things we didn't know you had to worry about) because we wanted to make sure the £9bn we were spending wasn't just thrown away.

But most of all, we worried because we didn't want to be embarrassed. It would, we thought, be embarrassing if the very big party turned into a very big mess.

Some of us are already wincing when we hear newscasters talk about 'the Olympic family' and 'Team GB'. And when we hear that the forecast for the opening ceremony is rain.

But when you see the torch being carried down your street, and people waving flags and smiling, what you feel isn't embarrassment: what you feel is joy and pride.

And when you see the young men and women, from all around the world, arriving in their tracksuits, with faces full of hope, what you feel, even if you have no interest in sport, is what you could probably only call awe. You can't help thinking about the times these people didn't want to get out of bed before the sun came up; the times they trained even though they thought their body would collapse.

When you see these people, sometimes from poor families in some of the poorest countries in the world, and think about where they started, and where they are now, what you think is that all is not lost.

You think that some people in the world can carry on thinking that it's good to be famous just for being famous, but many, many other people can carry on thinking that what matters isn't who you are, or if you're famous, but what you do with what you've got.

What we'll see, for the next three weeks, will remind us that the most spectacular feats in the world don't cost money. And that, for all the worry and embarrassment, will be £9bn well spent.

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