Thursday, 16 August 2012

Olympics 2012: The verdict is in

WELL, the Games are over and a nation of new sport addicts is unable to come to terms with the fact that their television screens suddenly seem empty.

For Weymouth and Portland the Olympics started with a dead heat between Games bosses and the council who pointed at legacy and valuable future tourism for the area and scores of grim faced local businesses who pointed at near empty tills as spectator numbers initially proved to be something less than a personal best for the resort.

A frantic appeal for people to visit saw numbers rise sharply for the second week, but it came too late to save the giant Bayside festival which went into liquidation before the Games had even reached half way.

Numerous beach businesses have told me they fear following Bayside unless Olympic trappings are swiftly cleared away so seaside customers can see where they are and give them a fighting chance to take enough money to make it through the winter.                                                                          


On the plus side, Weymouth and Portland really has made its mark with a global audience via a mountain of media coverage on everything from the town’s historic Georgian seafront to what socks Ben Ainslie wears.

Council staff coped with wave after wave of enthusiastic visitors to the beach sports arena where they could try cricket, rugby, football, table tennis and other activities on land with sailing, canoeing and windsurfing available on the waves.

The crush was so great that some days saw nearly 6,000 people - barely a thousand of them visiting politicians - pack out the venue prompting it to be extended.

The ICCI 360 dome and the Jurassic Airlines attractions excited everyone who tried them out, the Ambassadors did fantastic work helping visitors and the giant TV screens keep Live Site spectators up to date on how the Games were going.

Battle for the Winds was a genuine triumph of spectacular theatre and everywhere there was entertainment from buskers and fire jugglers to Punch and Judy, poetry, singing and a host of other acts and events across the borough which all helped to give Weymouth and Portland a unique atmosphere for the Olympic period.

The acid test will come next year when visitor numbers will be closely scrutinised to see if they match up to council predictions. 

If they don’t then certain leading lights will do well to be away on holiday when the figures come out. 

Despite official ostritch comments to the contrary there were some negative aspects and clearly those in authority got it wrong in the heavyweight manner they warned people of possible congestion and urged extreme care in planning their trip to Weymouth and Portland.

For once the public unfortunately took this at face value, believed them, and stayed away in droves until signs and transport were changed, charges altered and a herculean effort made to get the message across that everyone was having fun down here so come and join us.

Things did pick up but everywhere I went people told me the campaign to encourage more visitors to come to Weymouth and Portland shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place if things had been done properly.

In fairness, hindsight is a wonderful thing and the authorities had to plan for an influx to avoid a situation where the system just couldn’t cope.

By the same token, parts of Weymouth were reduced to ghost town status with shops reporting a 70 per cent drop in their takings compared with the same period last year.


Well nothing can be done to rectify mistakes now and only children stand a chance of seeing another Olympics in Weymouth and Portland.

That said, I personally think there will be a series of protracted and fiery inquests over the Games which I believe are unlikely to see either camp change its arguments very much because there is too much at stake. 

It will be a cold day in Hell before the Olympic authorities or the council holds their hand up and publicly admits they got any major part of the event wrong while opponents will never be convinced that large parts of the organisation here was anything other than a shambles.

But there is one thing both sides would do well to remember. Didn’t our athletes do well!

The tension and excitement of Ben Ainslie’s battle on the waters off Portland dominated local thoughts but, no matter where you went, there was always enthusiastic support for Team GB regardless of what sport was being watched or discussed.

That unity should set an example for months to come when Olympic event debates will inevitably be held since acrimony will achieve nothing.

Let’s all hope that Weymouth and Portland does benefit from the Games in the long run but we’ll all have to wait and see on that.

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