Chris Holmes is a solicitor working for an international
law firm in the City who is on the list of approved Conservative
parliamentary candidates. He is a former Disability Rights
Commissioner, is Britain's most successful paralympic swimmer ever and
was awarded the MBE for services to sport at the age of 20.
A little over four years ago I stood in the front row of the crowd amassed in Trafalgar Square when we heard those enormous words:
“The Games of the 30th Olympiad are awarded to the city of London”
Cue mass celebration, strangers hugging, dancing in the streets and an afternoon of joy. Perhaps it is the very diversity of that crowd which best makes the case for why we should all be excited about the London Olympic and Paralympic Games which will open in just over three years: the crowd was not invited dignitaries, the great and the good – it was ordinary folk from across our city celebrating a phenomenal achievement not just for London but for our entire country.
Having competed at four previous Games, I was perhaps in a privileged position to know just what a fantastic achievement this was and just what a difference it could make. When I went to my first Paralympic Games in Seoul in 1988 there was much talk as to the Koreans attitudes to disability and the position of disabled people in their society, or not as the case all too often appeared to be. And yet, when we arrived, the welcome was huge, the Games were a tremendous success and, perhaps most significantly, the lives of disabled people were transformed forever more, not least in the crucial areas of education and employment.
In Barcelona, in 1992, we saw a Games which took a city from being seen largely as a laughing stock, (no coincidence it being where the Fawlty Towers' immortal Manuel hailed from) to becoming one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
And to draw on the real historical comparator, London 1948, a Games produced in post-war austerity, cheering the nation: Fanny Blankers-Koen running on cinders and lighting the world through the otherwise unremitting grey.
London 2012 now faces similar challenges: we haven’t had enemy bombs destroying our city, more financial implosions rocking the City. God bless her, Tessa Jowell said something along the lines of, if we knew what was coming we would not have bid for the Games. But it is exactly this kind of background where an Olympic and Paralympic Games can perhaps have their most profound impact. It’s not just about the four weeks of thrilling sporting performances, medals won and records broken – it’s about what the Games can do long term, that much-mentioned legacy.
For me, if the Games succeed in transforming wasteland in East London into desirable parkland, property and commercial premises; if it succeeds in getting two million more folk active who would otherwise not be; if it succeeds, via the Paralympics, in transforming people’s attitudes towards and the life chances of disabled people across Britain – then this will have been ine heck of a project with which to have been involved.
In any Olympic journey there will always be issues along the way, spiralling costs and the progress of the building to name but two favourites of the press. But any project worth anything is never going to be plain sailing. If it was easy, anyone would do it, but building an Olympic village, stadia and then putting on the Games is in no sense easy. In David Higgins at the Olympic Delivery Authority and Paul Deighton at the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) we have two tremendously impressive individuals and we should all have total confidence in them that they will build the set on time and put on a show in Stratford to wow the world.
It may sound a hyperbole but I truly believe that, whatever the bumps along the road to our Olympics, whatever the wrangling and the rancour, the festival of sport in the summer of 2012 absolutely represents one moment in time with the power to transform our communities, our city and our country for the rest of time. So, yes, regardless of whether we are into sport or not, let’s all be excited by the Games.