He who would fear thorns should not attempt to gather flowers. And yet from all the jeers that barraged the struts of the newly completed stadia, you might be forgiven for doubting our resolve to host the greatest show on Earth. There were always going to be prickly obstacles in the way of achieving success with any monumental project. But that only makes the sacrifice you sow more worthy of the harvest you reap. When we hosted the Games of the 30th Olympiad this summer, we proved as we always have that those squeamish critics were paddling in someone else’s pool in embarrassingly shallow water.
Let’s be honest. This is the United Kingdom. There have been critics of every massive endeavour undertaken in this great nation since she had the temerity to even try. Her naval armadas helped her to conquer and rule nearly half the globe, bringing civilisation and rule of law to the unenlightened; the first railways and steam trains met robust opposition and yet still ushered in the dawn of the Industrial Revolution; our rebuilding of the nation after two world wars seemed like an impossible dream, and yet here I am writing about it over six decades later; the Forth Bridge, the Channel Tunnel, the list goes on. All were doubted and written off to the ash heap of history, but all defied the odds and were finished to much fanfare. This tiny island, dwarfed by her neighbours and barely visible from space, has been responsible for some of Mankind’s greatest endeavours.
Competition has rarely deterred us from doing anything worthwhile. We cannot be the world’s sixth biggest economy (fifth if you exclude California) through lack of a competitive streak. The Olympic Games demonstrated to the world our lust for a good match and our willingness to participate. It is another challenge we chose to accept, one we were unwilling to postpone, and one that we intended to win. We dared not shirk from our obligation to meet any test with our customary steel and resolve. The Games have truly served to measure and galvanise the best of all of our efforts, our courage and our hopes.
There are some poor misinformed souls who believed that hosting these Games would place an undue financial stress upon an already fiscally beleaguered nation; that we simply cannot afford to indulge ourselves in such extravagance during a time of austerity. Bigger picture, people. It is precisely during these Dickensian hard times that we need an industrial cattle prod thrust into our nation’s nether regions. If the pundits’ diagnosis is terminal decline, then the Games are just the medicine we need to bring us out of our economic coma and back into vitality. The potential for growth is endless. Endorsements for everything from food to floss have served as the ultimate promotion, creating interest, demand and hopefully more jobs. As they say in the city, you have to speculate to accumulate. And spending on these Games is a priceless investment that will take our economy beyond the finish line and into a future of limitless possibilities.
Something more potent and more enduring than mere economics is on the podium, however. The Olympic Games were a celebration of the finest we have to offer and demonstrate to the world, and did more to engender a spirit of national pride than any other event short of a World Cup victory. But the difference here is that not only do we get to keep the gold, we have a permanent legacy of achievement that will outlast all of us. When the history books are written decades or even centuries from now declaring the triumph of this island, we won’t be around to read them on the descendants of the Kindle. But we can say that we were there; that our glory was that it happened in our time; that we bore witness to the greatest event ever staged by a nation and attended by Man; that we were the ones that had the audacity to make it happen and pull it off. It was not an illusion. We actually did it.
And so, the Olympic Games have stirred a rude awakening on this planet. Her tectonic plates may collide and shudder with anger, her volcanoes may spit ferociously and her skies may rain storms with the fury of God’s own thunder, but one nation can rise above it all to remain as long as Mother Earth herself. And no nation that expects to be the leader of other nations could afford to fall behind in this or any other race. We can always invite the critics to write as much doubt as their keyboards can take. But they are now forced to write in the future that they were wrong. They were wrong because we were first; we were best; because we are the United Kingdom.
Dr Sharif Islam.