|Posted on September 10, 2012 at 11:50 AM|
Both sets of games are over, the athletes are currently taking part in the parade through Central London, and the whole nation feels good about itself. It appreciated the generous spirit and hospitality of over 70,000 volunteer games makers, it marvelled at the spectacle of the opening and closing ceremonies and above all it loved to watch athletes from all over the world doing extraordinary things that the vast majority of are just not capable of.
How long before us Londoners go back to being our moody taciturn selves? I hope it's a long time before we forget how to smile at each other.
I'd like to say a few words about the legacy of both sets of games, but concentrating mainly on the Paralympic legacy. There are just three things that I think MUST happen:
The Paralympics: Rio must continue what London began.
I don't think that any of us would have foreseen that the paralympians would play to packed houses in every session, or that over 6 million viewers would watch the Paralympics on Channel 4 on the night that David Weir, Hannah Cockroft and Jonny Peacock all won gold medals. Most of the TV audience and many of the spectators who saw events at the venues probably had never had any contact with disabled people before, and they didn't see the athletes as disabled - just as sportsmen and sportswomen taking part in familiar events such as swimming and long jump and unfamiliar events such as wheelchair rugby and boccia.
London 2012 was the first time ever that the Paralympics received the same level of media attention as the Olympics, and the first time that all seats were sold out. However, not every country gave them the same level of coverage that we saw in the UK. In the USA, not one minute of the games was broadcast live. NBC has scheduled only four hour-long highlights programmes on its Sports channel, followed by one 90-minute round-up. And the highlights won't even be broadcast until October.
In France the only broadcaster that planned to cover the games live was TV8 Mont Blanc, a regional channel that is only available to 70% of the population. The state broadcaster France Television, which aired around 16 hours a day of Olympic coverage, earning record viewing numbers only planned to air a brief highlights show late in the evening. But when an online petition demanding greater coverage garnered 17,000 signatures in a matter of days, the company buckled under the pressure and agreed to schedule a one-hour show in a primetime slot.
So I just hope that the Paralympics didn't "peak" in London, and that Rio can find a way of showing more people just how thrilling and moving disabled sports can be.
The right-wing press must stop demonising disabled people.
The London 2012 competitors showed just how much people with disabilities can achieve. There biggest irony is of course that both sets of games were sponsored by Atos, the outsourcing contractor who is using flawed and cruel tests to deprive many thousands of disabled people of benefits on which they rely. The second irony was seeing government ministers, always quick to encourage the right-wing press to demonise people with disabilities as "scroungers" being equally quick to associate themselves with success by presenting medals.
I wonder what the press coverage will be when one of our paralympians loses his or her mobility allowance when Atos starts testing them for the new Personal Independence Payment scheme that is to replace Disability Living Allowance. Remember that the purpose of replacing DLA with PIP is to cut the cost by 20%.
The Olympic park legacy must be to provide homes, jobs and recreation for the people of East London.
Work starts almost immediately to turn the complex of arenas, pools and buildings which have become so familiar into the newly-named Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The new-look park is set to re-open to the public in phases from July 27 next year.
The new Park will include 257 acres of open space, 6.5 km of waterways, the Orbit sculpture and observation tower, and five world-class sports venues. It is expected to host over 2,000 events each year including an annual festival of disability sport which will be one of the first events in the new park next July.
Outside the public park, there are plan to build homes 8,000 homes in five new neighbourhoods and to create 8,000 jobs in a new commercial district north-west of the park centred around the Press Centre and Broadcast Centre.
Well, those are the plans anyway. But long-term regeneration is a hard slog, and at the moment the London 2012 organisers have still to find tenants for the Stadium, the Press Centre and the Broadcast Centre. We are a nation that doesn't build remotely enough homes for our expanding population, and there has to be a lot of doubt as to whether local people will be able to afford the new homes. Let's just hope they get the balance right - it might take a long time. If you remember it took seven years for what was the Millennium Dome to re-open as the O2 Arena.
So, when some of these things take longer than we expected, we'll be able to find plenty of reasons to g back to being our traditional grumpy selves. In the meantime, have smile from me.