Perceptions successfully changed14th August 2012
After what was such a spectacularly successful two weeks for Great Britain, on and off the sporting field, it’s hard to not write something about the Olympics, so I’m not going to resist.
As we glow in the aftermath and wonder at our athletes’ skill and attitude as well as our ability to put on the biggest show on earth, what most interests me is the way the Olympics have changed so many people’s perceptions about London, Britain and the British. Not only have foreigners’ perceptions of us changed, but our perception of ourselves, our capital city, who we are and what we are capable of, has shifted.
We’ve always been a proud nation (hence the outpouring of support for our team and euphoric flag waving), but I sense that we now all feel much more secure about what we’re actually proud of. All of our greatest traits (including a sense of fair play, kindness, humour…among many others) were shown off to the world and the world liked what it saw.
Our perception of what we can achieve in the sporting world has changed, as the medals have rolled in. No longer are we prepared to accept that, say, Americans, Australians, Germans and Chinese are simply better than us by right. We now know that if we work hard enough at something we can beat anybody, at anything. A good lesson for life in general.
What might be the most valuable perception change, that one that might provide the biggest legacy from the Games, is our new found belief in our own capabilities as a nation beyond the sports field. Everywhere you looked this past fortnight there was evidence that we can be world leading if we put our mind to it: from the project management and organisation skills that brought us the Olympic Park and the perfectly mobilised volunteer army, to the outstanding creativity shown in the opening ceremony. We’ve shown great strength in depth of talent and exceptional attention to detail and pride in performance.
Another perception that really did need to change was the one that seemed to pervade: that we are a nation of unfriendly, private, negative and surly people, unsure of our place in the world. This has always been an unfair stereotype and I argued strongly in our nation’s defence recently here. During the Olympics these negative perceptions were spectacularly changed by our superb volunteers who showed the best of British hospitality, common sense and decency. They were changed by the sea of people lining the route of every available event and stadium to cheer on home grown heroes. They were changed by the support given to athletes from all countries in sports we had never even watched before.
Changing perceptions doesn’t happen overnight, but the Olympics provided us with a huge platform to show the world what we’re really about, and we didn’t let ourselves down.