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Why the Olympics are a Shadow of Their Former Self

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OLYMPIC TORCH
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As a child I never quite understood why the Olympics was such a big deal. World Cup Rugby galvanised nations around a game of raw passion. Tennis finals are a celebration of individual strength. Even cricket had that genteel allure - summer was here if cricket whites were out.

The Olympic Games seemed confusing and old fashioned with its array of events, some of which were so far from the everyday real world. When was the last time you shot-putted? Or did rythmic gymnastics?

I used to listen to my dad, a wise old sage, talk about the first Olympics in Ancient Times.

Then, it was core to the civilisation: to prove oneself to Zeus. It was also more than sport - artistic competitions, religious sacrifices and political alliances all took place. I will never forget the story of the poor man who after running 42km to deliver the news of victory against the Persians to the Athenians, then died on the fields on Marathon.

Most of all, the Olympics in Ancient Greece was about taking part. Anyone could participate and the unknown, poor man could become a rising star. It was a live experience in one place, Olympia, and many flocked to watch or take part. People travelled in safety as there was a moratorium on war and conflict.

Now the Olympics is more about performance, money and winning at all costs. It's about who will be the gold medallist, not who will manage to scrape by and qualify for the first time for their country. It's also largely watched on television, so it's no wonder people have lost a feeling for the pomp and circumstance of the ceremonies.

I worked on the initial bid Leap for London ten years ago and got a close up view of what actually goes on these days.

The truth is that there is a fine balance between what the event costs and what it creates for a city.

In London's case it was clear that the new village would rejuvenate depressed areas of east London. But in doing this it meant rehousing many families.

Then there is the hope that thousands of tourists will swell the economy. But I'd like to see the numbers of people who are such Olympics enthusiasts that they will pay the extortionate prices to stay in London often only to attend a couple of games. So few tickets are available to the general public. The rest are for sponsors, the VIPs...

The bid is also meant to improve the life of the city overall. They call it the Olympic legacy. There have been some great legacies in the past. Barcelona was boosted and rejuvenated into a top Euro destination. Sydney's transport system was modernised and streamlined.

But more recently Athens has suffered hugely. The new sports stadia destined for future generations stands empty. London now looks like a building site. Traffic has never been so bad. The main road that comes into town from the City will be totally snarled up during the games themselves, as one lane will be dedicated to ticket holders only.

In fact the Olympics could be held in part responsible for Greece's critical situation today. So much human effort went into completing the project on time it left the country tired and vulnerable.

I'm not sure the Brits will have the patience for all of this. What's worse the decision to host the games in the UK is not a political or an economic one. It is left to lobbyists and the sports elite who have to schmooze the IOC. During the final stages of the London bid it was obvious that Tony Blair's rowsing speech in Beijing did more to persuade the committee than the watertight plan.

What's worse is the economy is crumbling and it won't be long before people start clamouring for support on the real issues - health, education, taxes, debt.

Paris, in my opinion, would have been able to host the games with greater ease and less chaos.

Time's up on this antiquated concept in my opinion. The world has far greater problems and opportunities. Taking torches to each city and putting up the Olympic rings everywhere is a nice frothy gesture. But the real values of the original Olympics, guts, sweat and team spirit are the ones that count.

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