The Olympics: Changing Attitudes

Now the thing has actually started there has been a noticeable shift in attitudes towards the Olympics.

Before it kicked off, those with left-leanings were being rather cynical about the ticketing, the commercialism and the flag-waving. Some on the right, meanwhile, were getting cross about all the nation-bashing and calling upon us all to be more patriotic.

Then three things happened. First, a Republican American politician insinuated that London wasn’t ready. This had people leaping to the UK’s defence. It’s one thing for us to be rude to be about the Olympics, it’s quite another when an American right winger does the same.

Then, the Opening Ceremony turned out to be rather good. It was patriotic in an abstract sort of way: proud but never over-the-top, exclusive or even serious. It was also vague, messy and fun enough for most people to like without having to worry too much about whether it represented them and the Britain they lived in.

The fact that it annoyed some on the right helped too. Ironically, it seems that some who were defending the Olympics out of a sense of national pride have now been turned off it because their vision of Britain isn’t the one that is now being articulated. I suspect it is those same people who are moaning about Welsh football players not singing the English/British anthem.

The presence of so many Welsh players in the football side, and their refusal to sing God Save the Queen, has even blunted a little of the resentment of some who object to a football TeamGB in the first place. Amidst all the symbols of Britishness everywhere, anthem-gate has at least reminded some of England that the UK is actually made up of four nations.

Finally, the actual sport has started. Watching sports that we’d never normally see (or care about) is strangely exotic and a distraction from worrying about what it all means and represents.  And thanks to endless digital streams from the BBC we don’t even have to just concentrate on the events the British are doing well in. Who knew handball was so much fun?

Of course, there are still things to moan about – notably the commercialism and the empty seats but at least it doesn’t appear that anyone has been chucked out for wearing a Pepsi t-shirt.

It would also be easier for some of us who are not English to be more positive if it was TeamUK not TeamGB. I’m quite happy to call myself British but I am far more comfortable with the idea of a United Kingdom rather than a Britain. The UK stresses diversity and it’s less associated with the Union Jack flag, a flag which does not have any representation on it of the part of the UK that I belong to.

Such concerns aside, the Olympics are still turning out to be rather fun.  Afterwards, we’ll worry again about the huge cost to the public purse and argue over the legacy. But, as long as we don’t expect the Olympics to fix either the economic and health problems of the UK, we might be able to look back and say it was worth it.

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Author: HanesCymru

I teach history at Swansea University.

1 thought on “The Olympics: Changing Attitudes”

  1. Agreed, the principle of the costs involved with hosting are still pretty horrifying, as is the general two fingers up attitude to civil liberties from organisers and authorities, but sport is still enjoyable, and while we don’t want to contribute to the merchandise machine by directly spending any money on it (including going to any events), we otherwise treat it as any other Olympics, mainly as an opportunity to see world class competitors perform in interesting/entertaining sports which otherwise we would not have the chance to see.

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