By Michael Lavalette
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London 2012

This article is over 10 years, 8 months old
Issue 383

This edited collection brings a number of writers together to consider the impact of the 2012 Olympic Games on Britain.

Edited by Mark Perryman, of Philosophy Football, it gathers essays that were written at different points over the past 12 months – some during the Games, some immediately after and some with greater distance and reflection in the months since.

Most of the writers are keen sports fans and describe their joy when Mo Farah won the 5,000 and 10,000 metres events, and when Jessica Ennis won the Heptathlon and Nicola Adams the boxing gold.

The “success” of the Games and of Team GB is the backdrop to the essays, but the collection as a whole wants to say something about Britain, nationalism, sport and culture as well as scrutinising the claims that were made about the Olympics and legacy.

Each of the essays is written from a different perspective.

Perryman’s lead essay is thoughtful. It presents a series of demands to make sport more accessible, broader and based on greater participation. It unpicks some of the claims made by politicians about the Olympics, for example, Boris Johnson’s and Seb Coe’s suggestion that the Olympics were a victory for free market capitalism and a games delivered by big business sponsors. Perryman points out that this was an event overwhelmingly paid for by British taxpayers and brought to fruition (as an event and in terms of athlete performance) by state direction of resources.

But there are also more controversial claims. Both Perryman and Billy Bragg argue a position that (effectively) the key role played by women, black people, refugees, etc within Team GB brought a different type of patriotism to the fore – not the flag waving horror of the right, but a pride in self and community that is not exclusive but inclusive.

I’m certainly not convinced that just because the people singing God Save the Queen on the podium are black, or refugees that this undermines notions of racism, Islamophobia or xenophobia.

One of the best essays in the collection is written by Elaine Glaser. Glaser argues that many of the “high points” of the Olympics claimed by those on the left (Dan Boyle’s “defence” of the NHS, the multi-racial make-up of Team GB) actually acts as a cover. We can celebrate the NHS in a huge pageant which declares our love for and commitment to the NHS, whilst on the ground its being cut and privatised. The joy and enthusiasm at Mo’s victories allow the Daily Mail and their like to portray a “tolerant” and integrated society, whilst Islamophobia, institutional racism and oppression blight the lives of minority communities.

London 2012, Mark Perryman (ed), Lawrence and Wishart, £14.99 pounds (GB)

Available at Bookmarks, the Socialist bookshop.

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