Let the games commence

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And so the Olympic flame is back in Britain for the first time since 1948.

Its arrival follows a week of pageantry in Greece, culminating in the flame from Mt Olympus being transferred to a British torch (which promptly went out) whilst an austerity-sized package of 5 doves were released into the air.

The British delegation comprised a rather unlikely and eclectic team including flamboyant/crazy London mayor Boris Johnson, Lord Coe (or ‘Seb’ to the rest of us), Princess Anne and, of course, David Beckham.

Despite the fact that Becks has never taken part in an Olympics, is currently in LA, occasionally playing Soccerball (or whatever they call it there) and is unlikely to make the combined GB squad (unless it is chosen, X-Factor style, by SMS), he is nevertheless seen as an integral part of the Olympic effort.

(Does this mean we value fame and celebrity over authenticity in modern society? Sounds like one of those faux Theses that Education authorities so like to hand out grants for)

Anyway, back to the flame. Following a short flight (first class, of course), a good night’s sleep and a light breakfast, the flame was all set to begin its 70 day odyssey, starting from Land’s End and ending up at the Olympic stadium on July 27th.

Hey, it’s even making its way through the streets of Lewes, so I will get the chance to cheer on its shuffling progress at close quarters.

Having lived in Sydney for the entire, protracted life of the Sydney 2000 games – from bid to Games to aftermath – it is fascinating to recognise a number of parallels over here. In particular, the tendency to knock the Games at every opportunity and generally adopt a negative stance towards their very presence.

I clearly rememember how the Sydney games were going to be a disaster, the venues wouldn’t be finished in time, the city would grind to a halt, no-one would bother to volunteer, we’d be left with white elephant venues.

In fact, for a while, the smart money seemed to be on people leaving town for a month and letting the IOC and the overseas tourists get on with it. And many did.

But once it got underway, I personally thought that Sydney 2000 was a fabulous time. One of those rare periods when everyone (apart from those who had gone off on holiday with their noses in the air) basked in 2 ½ weeks of sheer goodwill.

Fast forward 12 years (is it really that long?) and I see a lot of familiar pre-Olympic concerns dominating coverage here, with, of course an extra coating of British cynicism.

Sure, the world is a different place than it was in the year 2000. Economically, times are tough and there are understandable security worries (not helped by incidents like that bonehead swimming across the Thames during the Boat Race), but it remains the world’s biggest sporting event.

It also provides an unrivalled opportunity for Britain to show a positive face to the watching world and provide its citizens with a welcome feelgood factor.

Time will tell, but for now, the rehearsals are all over, the show is about to start and I, for one, hope that Britain doesn’t fluff its lines.

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