Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012 Olympics: A triumph of British Multiculturalism

The success of the British team at the Olympics has been wonderful. Although I contributed virtually nothing (aside from my tax money) to the event, the success of so many British athletes has made me feel proud to be British. A fairly unfamiliar sensation given that self-serving politicians, greedy corporate fat-cats, corrupt bankers, the rabid right-wing press, the dodgy British justice system and several imperialist wars of aggression have given me little to be proud of over the last three decades.

For me the most glorious aspect of this Olympic success is that Britain's medal winning athletes have come from such a diverse range of backgrounds. From rich toffs on their horses and in their boats to working-class heroes on their bikes and in their boxing gloves. We had surprise teenage champions and sporting veterans bringing in the medals. As well as the wonderful mixes of age and social background there were champions from diverse British cultural backgrounds. English, Scottish, Welsh and even Manx. There were plenty of first and second generation immigrants too. Somalian born black Muslim immigrant Mo Farah seared himself into the national consciousness as true British sporting icon and a number of other foreign born athletes such as Bradley Wiggins and Laura Bechtolsheimer collected gold medals for Britain too. A triumph of multiculturalism the likes of which the British public have never seen before.

A triumph that demonstrates just how far out of touch the right-wing reactionaries have become. Recall Aidan Burley's disparaging comments about the Olympic opening ceremony, where he expressed how glad he was that the athletes were arriving to put an end to this "multicultural crap". Well the British athletes spent the next couple of weeks rubbing Burley's nose in multiculturalism. Recall the grotesque Daily Mail claim that it would be "almost impossible" for the Olympic organisers to find a happy mixed race family and their hit-list of "Plastic Brits" that they consider to be impostors and not "proper Brits" simply because they were born overseas. Let us rejoice at how these reactionary bigots have been proven wrong in the most glorious manner possible by talented British athletes like Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah.

The Olympic security deal with G4S was a shambles and a ripoff, however in the long run this may also be a good thing because the British public were given a very visible demonstration of the folly of privatisation and then the much derided public sector (in the form of thousands of police and soldiers) stepping in to save the day. Britain's successes on the track can also be seen as a demonstration of the power of state intervention. Instead of pumping £billions in lottery money and £millions in government grants into British sports, a more right-wing free-market system would have seen the the lottery cash transformed into corporate profits and the government grants turned into tax-cuts for corporations and the uber-rich. The success of Team GB can be seen as a demonstration of the power of intelligently targeted investment. In 1996 Britain only won a single gold medal, by 2012 they had been transformed into the third most successful nation in the World by a clear margin with 29 gold medals. Only the global super-powers of America and China managed to land more gold medals than Britain, who secured the same number of gold medals as France, Germany and Australia combined to push Russia down to fourth place. A bit of intelligently targeted investment and over the course of 16 years and British sport has transformed from embarrassing failure to glorious over-achievement in one of the most highly competitive fields of human endeavour.

In hindsight Danny Boyle's opening ceremony was wonderfully prescient in it's tributes to multiculturalism and the valuable role of the state sector. Multicultural athletes from all walks of British life delivered the medals and the state sector provided the financial support and the last minute security.


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