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Saturday, 7 January 2012

Funding an Olympic Legacy - thank God for Jeremy Hunt!

Billy Connolly used to joke that the Queen thinks the world smells of wet paint because everywhere she goes has been freshly re-painted!

I think of these words whenever government ministers and other official-types boast of their access to 'the voice of the people'.  How would they possibly know?  They are, after all, surrounded by people whose main function is to make sure they don't ever meet the dreadful general public, which is a demographic known to be notoriously off-message.

So, maybe be should take Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's comments with a pinch of salt:

"I'm continually surprised by how few naysayers there are. I was expecting there to be a much higher volume. If you look at the run-up to Sydney and Vancouver, there were many, many more sceptics than there have been in the UK.

"Locog has done a superb job in helping get the public fully behind the Games. There will always be a few sceptics but the closer we get the more they are starting to realise that this is going to be an extraordinary moment and they will feel perhaps just a tinge of being a party pooper."

The simple fact is that, post-Blair, government ministers simply never get to spend time with critics and 'party poopers'.  So all of their ideas are, for all they know, marvellous, touched by genius and hugely popular.

The context of Hunt's comments was the announcement of another tranche of spending on the London Games, aiming to make the 2012 Olympics a large-scale advertisement for Britain.  This includes a £39m marketing campaign (in which a group of Brits barely known outside of Central London travel the globe with flags), and a doubling of the budget for the opening and closing ceremonies (am I alone in not really caring about these parts of a sporting event?).

Mr Hunt is also expected to announce new policies designed to address the concerns raised by ... well, pretty much everybody, about the inexplicable cuts to the budgets for school sport.

"We remain 150% true to the vision Seb [Coe] outlined in Singapore in 2005. We remain totally committed to that.  It's a difficult period in terms of public spending.  I think we've got a very good plan in place that will convince the sceptics we can deliver on a fantastic sporting legacy as well as a fantastic economic legacy."

Coe's vision of an Olympic Legacy proved to be untenable at a time when funding for PE and youth sport in England was probably more generous than in other any country in the world.  But somehow Mr Hunt claims to have discovered a way to salvage that legacy.  And presumably without lots of money.

Genius!  Or so he no doubt has been told.

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