I enjoyed watching the very many hours of Olympic coverage I consumed from my sofa. It was entertaining. That's why I enjoyed it.
I have several observations to make, some of them in response to criticisms I have read elsewhere or heard in conversation.
A lot of people object to the sheer amount of coverage of the Olympics, contrasting it with other forms of entertainment - eg how few Proms are televised, particularly on terrestrial TV. I agree. Although I don't actually object to the Olympics, at other times of the year there are hours of sports which attract tiny audiences of devotees, bolstered by those who will watch whatever's on. The use of the red button and the ability to choose from a menu of options is a really good demonstration that the technology exists to offer a much wider selection of entertainment than is currently available. It shouldn't be that difficult to stream all the Proms that way, especially if they cut out the talking heads and the attempts to be just like Match of the Day Live.
Jingoist patriotism and nationalism is the last bastion of the scoundrel. To support an individual or a team just because they were born within the same arbitrary borders is irrational. I agree - up to a point. I think there is a natural human instinct to take sides in anything competitive. There are people who bet on the outcome of two beetles crawling across the ground. Tribal loyalty is not dissimilar to community solidarity. It's important to belong. But it's not good to think oneself superior. That there is a nasty violent side to nationalism doesn't mean that supporting one's team is equally bad, no more than the horror of rape makes loving or fun sex bad. And I would far rather get patriotic about people competing for medals than people killing non-combatants in a foreign field like Iraq or Afghanistan.
It isn't right to make such a big deal out of people who are good at sport. Not everyone can be, and it isn't fair to those who aren't. Why is sport treated as so much more important than other fields of endeavour?
I find that a more difficult one to answer. On a simple level, I would far rather celebrate the success of people like Chris Hoy, Ben Ainslie, Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Adlington than the vacuous celebs that appear on the front of magazines. Those four, and all the others from wherever and those that didn't make it, work hard. They don't have it handed to them on a plate. They demonstrate that success can only really come from single-minded determination. I have more respect for the little finger (or thighs, in the case of the Real McHoy...) of one of them than for all the lazy self-centred talented nobody wannabes who just want 'to be famous' . It's so easy to criticise young people for being all sorts of negative things, but you can't say that about Tom Daley nor about Peter Moore, Young Musician of the Year, who was interviewed on the Handover party thing. (And I doubt either will have any problem getting laid when they pass sixteen).
I don't like the focus in schools on excellence. A lot of people have bad memories of PE teachers who were bullies. The PE teachers at my school were without exception amongst the most decent non-bullying teachers or people one could meet. But they were a product of their training and their time, when the emphasis was on the school teams and maybe the Borough/County, to the detriment of fitness and general exercise for the majority. Schools should concentrate on sports that everyone can benefit from, introducing kids to new activities. They should identify those with exceptional promise and refer them to specialist coaches and organisations to be trained to national and international excellence. Most of our gold medals - the 'sitting down' ones - were won in sports that most schools don't or can't teach. Nicole Cooke was superb in Beijing and even better at Heathrow when she eloquently argued that cycling must become part of everybody's lives - more children should cycle to school, adults to work, there should be more cycle lanes,it's good for obesity, for transport and for the environment.
So many people argue that 'Athletics' is the only Olympic sport that matters ultimately. As far as the media, I guess that is probably true. This is partly because it's so big in the USA, and a large part of income for the Olympics comes from the USA - their TV company pays nearly half the total of TV rights and many of the major sponsors are US-based corporations.
Additionally and conversely, athletics is an area where competitors from poor countries can shine. Jamaica's gold medals, its 1-2-3 (or strictly speaking 1-2-2) in the women's sprint was an amazing achievement for a small island. I can't envisage them ever featuring in many, if any, of the sitting down sports, because of the sheer cost at entry level. Yet, in a sophisticated and prosperous country like Britain, Athletics is a tiny minority sport. I know plenty of people who run marathons and/or cross country but I don't think any of them do track. Who in their right mind wants to throw a javelin or a discus past the age of about 15.
Yet so many people participate in swimming and cycling, not especially for competitive reasons. I accept that if you're really poor, swimming baths admission or a bicycle is prohibitively expensive, but for the vast majority with some disposable income, the costs are pretty trivial. Obviously yachting and rowing appear more exclusive but I have known so many people over the years who are not startlingly rich who have taken advantage of living near the Rivers Thames or Trent or the Bridgewater canal, or near the coast or Sale Water Park to mess about in rowing boats or sailing dinghies. It's caricatured by the media as being elitist, for posh people, much like skiing and scuba-diving used to be. But we'll always be rubbish at skiing because of the climate yet as a nation we luxuriate in locations for boating.
I hope that the successful TeamGB will provide an inspiration to all, but especially to children and to policy makers. I was quite gob-smacked as one after the other Tory politicians - Moynihan, Coe, Johnson - trumpeted the success of public funding for the competitors. Then John Major had the gall to take the credit. Sure, he set up the Lottery, but he still didn't get it - the Tories insisted that all this lottery money went on buildings, for Sport or for the Arts. Neither Major nor his predecessor lent any support when Manchester bid for the Olympics. After the Tories were removed from power, sports-people began to get funded, not just buildings. We wouldn't have won London 2012 if the government hadn't fully backed the bid. I doubt that we would have got it without a pan-London government of the sort Thatcher abolished and Blair re-introduced (not entirely without regrets!).One gold in Atlanta, nineteen in Beijing. 15 (plus 2 Winter) under Thatcher, 6 under Major, 20 (plus 1 Winter) under Blair, 19 under Brown.
And did you know that Chris Hoy and Steve Redgrave share a birthday? As does Joe Calzaghe - reigning BBC Sports Personality of the Year. March 23. I don't suppose that statistically it's particularly freakish, but it seems that way...