Letter from London 19th December 2005
I was at a Sports Journalists’ lunch in London last week when Sebastian Coe made a brief appearance before moving on to a meeting at the House of Commons. He was received by all of us in the packed room with enthusiastic applause which I know was genuine, because there are few more cynical gatherings than the hard nosed hacks that make up the British sporting press. If they put their hands together it is not because they feel obliged to or are being polite. They do it because they mean it! Coe’s achievement in securing the 2012 Olympic Games for the city of London was without any question London’s big moment of the year, and Coe, although born in London, is really a Yorkshireman! And without being over emotional about this, that really is symbolic of why London’s bid eventually prevailed. London is not a parochial regional city but genuinely international. To be a “Londoner” is to be a citizen of the world, and for hundreds of years the city has welcomed and nurtured people from everywhere - even Yorkshire!
In the Olympic bid Coe and his team pitched that London would be an Olympics for the youth of the world, and he had with him a group of children from the London area to symbolise this. This was not contrived, some artificial “rainbow city” confection designed just to win the Games. It was genuinely (albeit cunningly) real and it showed what those of us who live in the city know, that if London is not your first home (as it is mine) it is, or can be, everyone’s second home. And it is this multi-cultural element that really does make us different. The football ground that I most frequently visit is “White Hart Lane”, the home of Tottenham Hotspur. It is not the easiest of grounds to get to and I usually get the tube to “Seven Sisters” and walk – that takes about half an hour and involves passing Jamaican fruit sellers, Halal butchers, Jewish bagel makers, Thai cafes, Cypriot grocers and many many more. If Tottenham is home to peoples from all around the world it is no more so than most of the London districts. That this multi cultural city works without too many problems and that it remains a magnet for travellers and for those (especially the young) looking to improve their life is part of its history and part of its present.
Sebastian Coe’s pitch to the IOC was, of course, designed to emphasise what it good about the city. And to the sceptics the London bid team said (as Ralph McTell wrote in his song “The Streets of London”) “Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London, I’ll show you something to make you change your mind”. And that something is not the Beefeaters in the Tower, the grand buildings or the parks and the boulevards. It is the people.