Alex Massie

The Eeyore Olympics

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Well, the Olympics have finally arrived. James Fallows has been my go-to China blogger for some time. I heartily recommend his blog to you and suggest it will be well worth reading over the next couple of weeks. Not for its coverage of the games as such, but because he has a sympathetic humanist's appreciation of what the games mean to China and the Chinese people. I also think he is right when he argues, as has done repeatedly, that it is in everyone's interests that these are successful games.

Of course, London is next. One of the remarkable things about modern Britain is the joyously jaundiced view many Britons have of the prospects for London 2012. Officially, the country is delighted to be hosting the games in four years times and it's true that many people were delighted that Britain was awarded the Olympics. When the time comes even more will rally round and hope it all goes well.

But it is still striking that so many Britons, I think, reslish the prospect of the London games being a complete, total and utter fiasco. It is impossible to imagine Americans thinking this way had the games been awarded to an American city. The public would be filled with a rah-rah-rah can-do spirit determined to show the rest of the world that this is how the Americans can show the rest of the world how America does these things. Equally, a country such as South Korea or, yes, China sees the Olympics as a means of demonstrating how far they have come.

They - we - do things differently in Britain. Fiasco is not a badge of shame but a confirmation of the extent to which everything is going to the bloody dogs. Perhaps this is just the Eeyore tendency in British life (a tendency that, in different fashions, crosses political divides) but people in Britain enjoy Eeyore and think he's thinking along the right bloody lines.

Equally, it's the case that we revel in cock-ups and fiascos. For instance, if we really wanted a decent train service we might insist upon having one, but actually we often prefer to have a sub-standard service that permits one to complain about it. As with the trains, so with the Olympics: we love being able to complain about the (entirely predictable) cost over-runs. Of course the games won't come in on budget and nor, secretly, do we want them to. A smooth, orderly, on-budget games would deprive us of all the enjoyment to be had from chuntering about the games and their planning. Where's the fun in that? We like being lied to because this confirms our sourest suspicions that it's all a bloody sham and, mate, what the hell would you expect?

And if, in the end, the fat is rescued from the fire and the London games, miraculously, are considered a success then this too can be considered a peacetime example of rescuing victory from the clutches of defeat. Not for nothing does Dunkirk still loom more largely in the British consciousness than D-Day. Arnhem too, for that matter. And that's to say nothing of Ypres, Loos and the Somme all of which are remembered even as the great victories of 1917 and 1918 are forgotten.

Sure, the Olympics are less important than those. But the mentality is the important thing here. Even so, what other country might seriously hope for fiasco when given the opportunity to host the so-called greatest sporting show on earth? I predict many articles making the cse that if only the Victorians were organising London 2012 everything would be running smoothly, on time and on budget...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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