Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Let’s see this Olympic spirit change politics for the better

The world's greatest athletes have packed and gone home after the most inspiring and emotional of Olympic Games.

The spirit that they generated throughout most corners of this motley land has infused in it a renewed sense of optimism and self-confidence, channeled by Sebastian Coe into his hope that it will inspire a generation.

Galen Rupp's act of self-sacrifice so that his training partner, Mo Farah, could win his second gold medal and enter the history books, exemplifies this spirit, and the best of human nature.

Everybody now wants a share of this Olympic spirit. If they could bottle it, it would sell by the tanker load.

David Cameron hoped that some of this euphoria and excitement would rub off to the economic benefit of the country; this was the motivation behind UK Trade and Investment's business summits held concurrent with the Olympics.

It is also the motivation behind the Downing Street Hunger Summit, which Cameron hopes will secure sufficient commitments from leaders and multinational firms to help improve the nutrition of 25 million children by the time of Rio's 2016 Olympic Games.

This has been backed by many Olympic stars. They have urged the prime minister to go further and make alleviating hunger the top priority for the UK's presidency of the G8 next year.

Mo Farah, whose story is perhaps the most inspiring of many inspiring and humbling stories to emerge from the Games, has lent his support. He has already set up his own Foundation to give aid to the Horn of Africa. Merely by tweeting about its first fundraising ball on 1 September to his many new followers, he caused the server that hosts its website to crash.

It does make you wonder why a similar sense of global togetherness and teamwork cannot come together at other times; like the Rio+20 sustainable development summit, or the annual United Nations efforts to find a global agreement on ways to limit climate change.

Anyone who has attended these gatherings as a campaigner immediately senses a similar coming together of thousands of people from all over the world, and their enthusiasm for a common cause, and knows full well the origins of the blocks to attaining these goals.

The Olympic opening ceremony, depicting coal-smoke belching factories functioning with the indentured labour of millions of workers, reminded us all that Britain began the industrial revolution, thus inaugurating the process of climate change.

Mo Farah's campaign to combat famine in Africa should also bring to our minds that it is this continent which stands to suffer the most from climate change.

The closing ceremony, in turn, by having a children's choir sing John Lennon's Imagine, attempted to make us think that if we all come together we really can save the world. As the song goes: “it's easy if you try".

It may be easy if you try, but as every medal winner at London 2012 will tell you, it's the trying that is hard: years of painful effort. But the result is worth it, even for those who do not succeed; they will cherish forever the joy of participating.

So, if the Hunger Summit succeeds, why not, in four years time, when we are back at Rio de Janeiro, home of the Sustainable Development summits, be even more ambitious?

If we do not have a global agreement by then to tackle the most pressing problem facing all life on earth, then we should use the opportunity, the euphoria and optimism, to force world leaders to sign up to one: an Olympian pact to limit emissions.

Never mind how, or who gives the most. Cease this useless bickering and destructive posturing. Show us the same generosity of spirit we have witnessed in East London.

We need from our world’s politicians displays of teamwork, cooperation within competition, and self-sacrifice, like those that have mesmerised us this last fortnight.

Olympic competitors have stunned us with their world-beating achievements that have exceeded our wildest expectations of what human beings are capable of. We expect it of our athletes.

How much more should we demand it of our political servants?

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