Australia went backwards at the London Olympics, but the Brits have enjoyed great success both in a sporting and organisational sense, except for their inability to sell tickets. There is no doubt that the Games did wonders for the morale of the British people. It has been at rock bottom for a long time for a wide range of political, economic and social reasons, a large measure of which is related to its fateful decision to join the fiasco known as the European Union half a century ago.
The Olympics have cost Britain a lot of money, and the debate about whether they have or will ever receive value for money will go on for a long time.
Montreal is still paying off the debt for the Games of 1976, and we are all very aware that the Greeks ran up an extraordinary debt in staging the Games of 1996 — a liability which has been a major factor in causing their current economic demise.
But, in the highly unlikely event that the world thinks it important that I should make a judgment on whether Old England did the right thing in taking on the Games, I reckon that I would have to say ‘yes’.
It happened at a very important point in their history when Britain could have descended into irrelevance as a world power and a depression that would have brought misery to their people. The Games turned a corner for them and, so long as they can repay its cost quickly, their courageous investment will pay dividends in many ways.
It now depends on enlightened political leadership, and I hope that Cameron and Clegg can improve on their fairly ordinary performance to date. Sadly, their alternative, Millibrand, is an even more pedestrian politician.
This leads us to look critically at what Australia can hope to do at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. A lot can happen in four years, so I am optimistic about our prospects.
However, I will vehemently oppose the allocation of any more government funding than the Olympic Committee and the Australian Institute of Sport already have. They must be required to use it much more efficiently and effectively than they do at present, removing the fat cats from their administration and encouraging our athletes in all sports to live a leaner and more committed lifestyle. Too many of them live and act like royalty.
But, I will enthusiastically support a far greater government commitment to school sports, so we can discover and encourage talent much sooner than we do now. A good side benefit will be the reduction of obesity in school children, who spend too much time playing computer games and gate-crashing parties.
When I was growing up in the 1930s, our athletes were paid nothing, often met their own expenses and lived in substandard accommodation where they ate meagre food while competing. But, they were proud to represent Australia, and Australia was proud of them. Somehow, we need to recapture our national spirit of the will to win for the honour of doing so.
Meanwhile, I note that Ted Bailleau and Campbell Newman are thinking of making separate bids for their State capitals to host the Olympic Games in 2020 or 2024 or 2028. I never like to stifle initiative, so I will keep an open mind on their vision, but each city must plan to build a fast underground rail system if it is to be seriously considered as having the capacity of transporting the vast crowds that the Games will draw.
The subsequent long-term benefits of this overdue transport infrastructure will be enormous. So, if this is to be part of the deal, then you and I should back their bids with vigor.