Jacqueline Magnay May 26, 2012
Sebastian Coe desperately wants his 2012 Games to be like Sydney was 12 years ago. Photo: Reuters
THE chairman of the London Olympic Games organising committee, Lord Sebastian Coe, desperately wants his 2012 Games to be like Sydney was 12 years ago. He craves the friendliness of the volunteers, the blue of the sky, the quiet behind-the-scenes security, all interwoven with spellbinding competition and passionate and knowledgeable sports-loving crowds.
Certainly for more than a decade every major competition, and certainly every Olympic Games, has been measured against Sydney and come up short. In essence, Sydney is the benchmark by which every Games is measured.
What has Coe got so far? A decades-old ticketing system that is fraught with glitches, a British public not so much angered by the costs of the Games - more than £11 billion ($A17.7 billion) so far - but far worse, indifferent.
The relative few who are engaged with the Olympics are canvassing options of renting out their homes and skipping across to the continent - a double bonus of missing the expected Olympic transport crush with the system predicted to carry an extra 1.5 million tourists, plus earning some spare cash at a time when the country is undergoing a double-dip recession.
But this is indeed exactly like Sydney was before it hosted the Olympic Games, except for the economic conditions (and more on that later). Remember the ticketing fracas where Olympics Minister Michael Knight's team squirrelled away hundreds of thousands of tickets for the privileged and rich? How the single rail system from Strathfield into the Sydney Olympic Park wasn't going to cope? How everyone wanted to make a fortune renting out their houses at inflated prices to Olympic tourists and head overseas? And remember how the few that went ahead have both regretted it, and denied it, ever since.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
London even has a version of the wickedly witty ABC satire The Games, called TwentyTwelve and aired on the BBC. Many of the storylines are familiar, and once again life is imitating art. The countdown clock broke down in real life. In the series it went backwards. In real life there was a lengthy discussion about a faith pin, in the series it was a debate about having a multi-religious area, and just this week the nation's golden girl, heptathlete Jessica Ennis clocked her fastest 100 metres hurdle time - except she cleared only nine sets of hurdles, not 10, in a Manchester street race. Wasn't there something in The Games script about the pool being a bit short so that world records could be set?
This week Britain had another Sydney-like experience. With much fanfare at the extreme south-west point of the country, Land's End, the three-time Olympic gold medal sailor Ben Ainslie started the Olympic torch relay, which is riding a huge wave of nationalistic pride. (Even if some of the torchbearers are attracting huge, but not yet authenticated bids for their torches on eBay, I look forward to seeing how much the LOCOG volunteer uniforms attract, for the Sydney ones were highly collectable at the time). When Nova Peris ran with her daughter at Ayers Rock it was the start of Olympic fever. Suddenly everyone was an Olympic fan. Here, too, many tens of thousands of people who have had no prior interest in the Games, have not sought tickets and believed their part of the country was geographically too far from the Olympics, have been getting up as early as 6am to line the torch route in Cornwall, Dorset and Devon.
But will they open their wallets? Economists are hoping that the half of 1 per cent economic growth experienced during the Sydney Olympics will be replicated here as Britain seeks to isolate itself from the financial meltdown in Greece and Spain. It might have been easy to expect local resentment about the Games as this economy totters along. Yet the conservative political leaders have spoken about how the massive construction of the Games (nearly £7 billion) and the huge security bill (£2 billion including counter-terrorism) is keeping the economy going. So far there hasn't been any significant or organised backlash about that Olympics expenditure.
And for that Coe should be grateful that the 2012 version of the Olympics is indeed very much like that of Sydney.
Jacquelin Magnay is the Olympics editor of the Telegraph Media Group (UK).