So its all over, bar the closing party, and what a fortnight it has been. Yep, I’ve been completely swept up by Olympic fever.
Right up to the opening ceremony the British media were more cynical than enthusiastic about the games. The last minute problems over security, the Zil lanes in the capital reserved for games traffic, ticketing issues, the commercialism of the big sponsors, and the plain old British propensity for whingeing meant that enthusiasm certainly seemed restrained. But then the success of the opening ceremony (which I have yet to see) suddenly swept that cynicism away, and as the gold rush began for Team GB we have become intoxicated with sport.
I am not as hostile to football as many of my friends imagine. It is a beautiful game. Watching the way Spain won the Euros at the beginning of this amazing summer of sport was sublime. It is footballs oafishness and self-regard and hegemony that I object to. In these Olympics it has been so refreshing to be plunged into a greater sporting world. The contrast between the demeanour of Olympic athletes with professional footballers has been stark. (An interview with the 19 year-old Kirani James, winner of the 400m was a standout for me. Such maturity, such grace.) Often it has been the minority sports that have captured the imagination – we are all taekwondo and BMX fans now; and handball (surely one of the revelations of the games) is at least the equal of football in terms of what the ideal team sport should be.
I went to London on Tuesday and all the much stated superlatives were true. The police, very present, but very friendly. The terrific support of the military, which rather than being oppressive somehow added to the British-ness and colour of it all. And the incredible army of “games makers”. Never has London worked so well, looked so good, or been so happy. British people were talking to strangers on the Tube! The transport system worked! Everyone wanted to help!
We had tickets for the beach volleyball. This wouldn’t have been my first choice of event, but we were given them, and so could not refuse. Beach volleyball is fluff and flim-flam, but you know what? It was great! Horse Guards Parade was a simply stunning venue, the entertainment was fun, and – no doubt about it – the players themselves were unarguably athletes.
Thursday we went to Weymouth, for the Dorset end of the Olympics. Even though this was the one day that sailing was cancelled because of lack of wind this was again a terrific day. Weymouth looked superb, and watching other sports on big screens on the beach was a treat.
What a fortnight it has been.
I’m listening to the radio now, as things gear up for the closing ceremony and the question being asked is “Why has it been so good?” There are the obvious answers: Some very clever people have worked very hard and pulled off an unfeasibly complex logistical operation with incredible aplomb. But over and above that, I think the fundamental reason is that the Olympics have revealed what should also be very obvious: We were made to worship.
We human beings want something bigger and grander than ourselves to delight in. We want to be part of something that pulls us into relationship with crowds of other applauding, cheering, crying human beings. We want to celebrate and we want things to work just as they might in heaven.
Weeks ago when the Olympic Torch relay began I tweeted about how I love the Olympics but hate Olympic pseudo-religion. And I really do. But the innate human need for the religious has been made very plain in these games – a need that transcends the icky religiosity of the Olympic hymn. We want to worship.
Whatever sporting legacy these Olympics leave in the UK the euphoria of a triumphantly staged games will quickly fade. When the sun is no longer shining and the back pages are again dominated by the tantrums of overpaid footballers and the British transport system again grinds to a halt our need to worship will remain.
Without worship, we are nothing.