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Something unlooked for has happened over the last two weeks. Many of us have been turned from Olympic scepticism towards – if not an entirely uncritical enthusiasm – a frame of mind which acknowledges it has caught a glimpse of the kind of society which we could be, and has taken inspiration from it.
The corporate lock-down, the encroachment of the 'brand police' on the choices of a democratic citizenry (defended by a member of our legislature in the shape of Sebastian Coe), the deployment of missiles on the roofs of residential blocks, the G4S fiasco – all these were, and remain ugly. It is not carping or evidence of a killjoy mindset to say that we need to remember these intrusions of corporate and military power into the Olympic ideal and into our common life, and to make it clear to those who sanctioned them that we refuse to accept their inevitability.
But what has happened between 27 July and 12 August has been transformative. From Danny Boyle's extraordinary 'Isles of Wonder' opening ceremony with its wit, irreverence, affection and sheer inventiveness, through to the very last competitive effort, athletes and people together have taken the whole experience away from power and vested interests.
We have seen reflected back to us a country, a history and an ongoing tradition which has nothing to do with politicians and their wish lists. That is why Aidan Burley responded to the opening ceremony with such impotent bile and why David Cameron and Boris Johnson have been shamelessly trying to associate themselves with the athletes' success.
Mixed race athletes, Muslims, immigrants, women, men, gay and straight – all have been equal in their endeavour and the value we have placed upon their winning and their losing. There has been good humour and shared enjoyment between spectators who support different teams. Football has much to reflect upon.
Although the high levels of emotion accompanying the astounding effort and achievement of competitors such as Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah will die away, there remains something which we must use as a spur for the future. We have seen dedication and ambition which is not driven by greed; both victory and defeat met with courage and grace; we have seen the diversity of our country reflected back to us and have reacted with joy rather than chauvinism to the tally of medals.
Over the last two weeks, we have learned a good deal about the complex, multi-ethnic country which Great Britain now is. We have taken a pride in our history without needing to reference imagined imperial glories. Perhaps we have begun to understand an instinctive patriotism which has moved beyond the xenophobia and sectarianism which disfigures so much competitive sport.
The economic crisis remains, as does the growing inequality of our society. An increasingly unimpressive coalition government drifts further out of touch with the real lives of those it governs, squabbling, bickering and tooting on dog-whistle issues to a dwindling number of adherents. But in the words of Carol Ann Duffy's Olympic poem “ We sense new weather.” Perhaps this is our opportunity to turn it into a new climate.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen