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The real way we can 'inspire a generation'

Now that the raucous closing ceremony has brought down the curtain on the London 2012 Olympics, it’s time to cut through the hyperbole and the rhetoric surrounding the games.

This is especially so of the much-trumpeted slogan of London 2012, “Inspire a generation”. From whatever side you examine this imperative, it rings hollow for the vast majority of the present as well as the next generation.

If you are one of a million young people without a job in Britain, living on next to nothing or on hand-outs from hard-up parents, there’s little inspiration to be drawn from the amazing achievements of the athletes from 204 nations who competed in London.

The highly-successful British squad formed an elite group, supported by a range of sponsors, public money in the form of lottery funding and, for many, the benefit of quality resources provided by a fee-paying school.

And then they have had the backing of teams of coaches, advisers, psychologists, doctors, sports scientists and access to the best facilities.

For the unemployed of the present generation it’s another story. They are very much on their own. In their case, the state harasses you, cuts your benefits without hesitation, sends you on cheap labour “work experience” schemes and generally gives you a hard time.

As to the idea that school students will now take up sport as a result of being inspired by the Olympics, the problem is that funding for such activities was cut last year by the ConDem education secretary Michael Gove. And successive governments have allowed local councils to sell off playing fields for commercial gain, limiting opportunities in another direction.

With the present recession on the edge of becoming a full-blown depression, the most real prospect is not of inspired but lost generations, abandoned by a society that can organise a global sporting event but cannot deliver on a simple desire for a job at a living wage.

The reason for this is not hard to fathom. London 2012, like all modern Olympics, was a business venture first and a sporting event second. From the corporate sponsors whose logos were on every shirt and running shoe, to the exorbitant prices charged for tickets, these were a games designed to make us love capitalism and country.

The BBC played its part, like the faithful dog that it is. Endless references of people “being proud to be British” as well as out-of-control commentators had you reaching for your nearest sick bag.

That the games did not on the whole come over like that was due in no small part to the cosmopolitan citizens of London, who cheered everyone regardless of their country, the 70,000 volunteers and the supreme combined efforts that went into the opening and closing ceremonies.

London 2012 then was a contrast as sharp as any in contemporary British society, where extreme wealth and dire poverty often live in parallel streets in the same city.

The collective efforts of ordinary people as well as talented directors, performers and musicians was a powerful testimony to what shared endeavour can produce. They exposed as hollow and shallow the posturing of the political class as they tried to play catch up.

If there is a “legacy” coming out of London 2012, then it surely has to be achieved along this road. A co-operative, pooled effort could and should put the corporations and banks where they really belong – into the hands of ordinary people.

The looming catastrophe of slump, depression and international conflict could then be avoided and the resources of society put to sustainable and creative use.

That would truly inspire a generation.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
13 August 2012


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