Boris the modern Olympian

Right now the 2012 Olympics is employing people and cleaning up a dump. Soon it will refocus London eastwards. In 2012, it can be that contradiction of terms: a triumph of Britishness. The mayor is ideal as the frontman for all this.

Of course, there’s lots of opinion diss-ing the 2012 London games. This is Britain and the Second Coming wouldn’t enthuse some opinion-formers.

Boris Johnson, classicist, conservative, romantic, populist, patriot, iconoclast and showman is in ideal shape to make a major contribution to the wonderful phenomenon that it is very likely the 2012 Olympics will be. All that and he is a mongrel internationalist.

One decent point about the Austerity Games is that for the first time in many years a public make-work project actually could be argued to have economic merit.

But the glorious point is that the entire Western world is need of exactly what a London games could deliver. The West needs to assert itself as gracious in victory or defeat. It needs to re-orientate itself toward real achievement instead of vulgar celebrity. It needs to insist on the value of values. It needs to understand the need for elite excellence and pride, but also for humility. It needs to celebrate nations and nationhood, but also individuals and individualism, and societies and the sociable.

It needs to understand what matters and what doesn’t. These are games. Losing here should never be a sadness for more than a moment or two. You can’t fail as a competitor in a games in which it is a triumph to take part. And, hey, it’s only a game.

We’re on a tight-rope. Elite sports costs money and is a career. Sports people are egotists and invest a huge amount in being the best. As they do so, they need to be told quite firmly to get a life. They need to be helped to get a life.

The money matters. Of course, the Olympics are capitalistic. But that’s no more than to say that they’re expensive and popular and sponsored and advertised and all the rest.

The Olympics are business, entertainment, tourism. As usual, and as with the arts, commerce and culture are all jumbled up and in rather a good way.

All of this is surely understood by Boris. It represents a series of fascinating dimensions for the 2012 Olympics. I am pretty sure he is going to be a great salesman of these riches.

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Publication date

27 November 2008