The Olympic legacy to the British mindset

References to Britain’s glorious summer of 2012 are now bordering on cliché. But looking back glowingly is no crime. It has been an Olympic summer that will never be forgotten. Not only did London pull off a spectacular and smooth-running Games, Team GB performed exceptionally, claiming a glittering haul of 65 medals, the best since 1908. And over the past week and a half, we’ve done it all over again in a stunning Paralympics. Not bad. Not bad at all.

So what happens now? What is the sustainable legacy of this Games? We all know about the concerted and much publicised efforts to make this the ‘greenest games ever’. I trust Lord Coe and his LOCOG posse to deliver the regenerated East End of London, the handover of the stadium and the rest with the same ruthless efficiency with which they delivered London 2012. My suggestion for a legacy is a less tangible one.

What do we do with this wave of British positivity? How can it be retained and harnessed to help us in our quest for a sustainable future? Here are three lessons we might take away from our Olympic experience:

1. Positivity

This might seem an obvious point, as we’re all still surfing a wave of collective good feeling ahead of the Paralympic Closing Ceremony on Sunday. However, if you’re mind can stretch back to the ‘days before 2012’, you’ll recall that we are a largely pessimistic nation. Yet, we’re still in the midst of a double dip recession, and in mid June, the Prime Minister’s popularity was at an all time low (47% of the population thought he was doing a bad job). So where’s the same negativity? With my thumb in the air, I feel it’s temporarily gone. We just delivered a world-beating games on time and in full. Our athletes and gamesmakers are the envy of the world. As Danny Boyle reminded us and the Olympics reiterated, we can do fantastic things in Britain. So, is the degrading environment a lost cause? No, because we can take serious, effective action to change the world for the better.

2. It’s not about the money

It’s impossible to put a monetary value on how it felt to host the Games. Despite the pre-summer scepticism, London 2012 exceeded our wildest expectations both in the event itself and in Team GB’s success. And it felt so good. But just weeks before we started, the papers were full of concerns regarding a potentially disastrous economic impact. The public sector budget for the Olympics was revised to £9.3 billion in 2007 and we won’t know the real cost until the sums are done in the months to follow. Aside from the few businesses that experienced an Olympics boost, the average member of the British population won’t be any richer after these Games. But most people enjoyed an outstanding show and the wave of positivity rides on. Certainly there’s an element of ‘bread and circuses’, but the Olympics serves a useful reminder that things don’t have to make us money to make all our lives happier. Green spaces, participation in sport, nature, camaraderie, society: these are what make people truly happy.

3. If you want the best, only hard work will do

My enduring image from the Games isn’t Hoy or Wiggins cruising to Gold, Mo Farah mobotting with joy or Usain Bolt strolling through the 100m once again. No, it was the bitter disappointment visible on China’s 10m diver, Qiu Bo, who claimed silver ahead of Tom Daley but behind his American counterpart, David Boudia. Bo had clearly put every ounce of his being into winning gold over the last four years, and, as tears poured down his cheeks and he slammed the wall with his fists, that hard work felt like it was for nothing. That is how hard you have to work to reach the top. So, if we want to create a sustainable future, we have to chase it with Qiu Bo’s attitude. Words and symbolic actions can only set the course. Then the real work begins. And it starts at home. I’m off to compost my kitchen waste…

Photograph: www.geograph.org.uk

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