The best of British passion to leave lasting legacy

For two weeks, London embodied everything good about its multi-cultural society, ensuring the summer of 2012 will live long in the memories of athletes and fans

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 August, 2012, 9:13pm

It has been a fabulous fortnight and more. I have enjoyed every bit of these Games, not only savouring the athletic endeavours but also the grand venues, which provided an aura of magnificence to the entire extravaganza. And to top it all has been the glorious weather.

Ever since I arrived on July 22, the sun has been out most days. The weather plays an important role in the lives of the British - they talk about it all the time. And it seems the sunny spell has helped infuse an extra degree of warmth and cheerfulness in them.

This has been evident by the smiles on their faces. The 70,000-strong volunteer force, who have been everywhere, and the large presence of the military have epitomised this feeling of goodwill sweeping through the nation. Yes, when the sun is on your back, it feels easier to break into a smile.

Of course, it always helps when the hosts are doing well and Team GB excelled beyond all expectations. From mighty Mo Farah to Bradley Wiggins, they have fired the imagination of the British. When people start doing the "Mobot" with their arms over their heads, or when you see men sporting fake sideburns, you know these two stars symbolise the diverse culture which is Britain today.

Farah, who arrived in Britain from Somalia as an eight-year-old, is a Muslim. He raised his hands to his eyes and uttered a prayer to Allah just before he crossed the finish line in the 5,000 metres and soon after prostrated in thanks.

Tour de France champion and gold medallist Wiggins celebrated in time-honoured fashion by going on a drinking binge with his mates. They highlighted the multi-cultural and multi-religion society that is London today. Every nation in the world has his or her sons and daughters living in this great capital. It is a mix that embodies the global village we live in today.

This past fortnight has been a far cry from the London of a year ago, when the streets were in flames. From Hackney to Croydon, gangs of teenagers fought running battles with police, burning cars and looting shops. An old friend of mine, Mohammed Llahir, who lives in Tottenham where Mark Duggan was shot dead by police resulting in the riots, cannot believe the transformation brought by the Olympics.

"A year ago we were living in fear, but those dark days have been forgotten today. These Games have been superb and have brought the community together," said Llahir, a Londoner for the past 20 years.

This coming together of the people is perhaps the most important legacy of the 2012 Olympics. Whether it will survive is another matter, but what the past fortnight has proved is that there is a lot of goodwill around and this has been amply demonstrated.

The British government hopes this spirit can be bottled and used freely in the future - one eBay seller is asking £5 for a jar of "Olympic Atmosphere" collected at Eton Dorney.

Officials want this Olympics' heritage to leach into the schools - London mayor Boris Johnson wants two hours of compulsory competitive sport every day (just imagine the dismay among all those with no sporting bent) - and hope this medal bonanza is not just a one-off phenomenon. Already fingers are being pointed in the direction of Antipodean cousins Australia, who after their successes at the 2000 Sydney Games have fallen somewhat off the ace.

I doubt the same will happen here because sport is better funded in Britain - thanks to UK Lottery and the scheme set up by former PM John Major - and the fact that they can use the Aussies as an example of what can go wrong when the state cuts funding for sport.

Both these examples are lessons Hong Kong can learn from. We have already had calls for a lottery-funded system from two high-profile officials - Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, the president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee, and Brian Stevenson, chairman of the Jockey Club and president of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.

It is clear by now for even the most anti-sport politician or bureaucrat how the benefits of hosting a major sporting event can galvanise society.

Already the British government believes the financial legacy will benefit business by £13 billion over the next decade. This is more than the £9 billion spent to host the Games.

Hong Kong's legislators who turned down the opportunity to bid for the 2023 Asian Games should have another look. It is not too late. In November, the Olympic Council of Asia will meet in Macau to decide the host city for the 2019 Games. We should tell them then that we are keen for the 2023 Games to come to Hong Kong.

The new administration might have its hands full with other pressing matters. But it should take the time ponder a fresh bid. London, on a far bigger scale, has shown how an Olympics can re-energise a people. For decades, the British were regarded as a rather glum lot who were still struggling to come to terms with a lost empire. No more.

Today there is an air of confidence in their step. As David Cameron says, the Olympics has shown that "Britain can deliver". And they have done that in memorable fashion.