Four years ago, my home city London hosted the Olympic Games. And, in say 12 or 24 years, I would love to see them come to New Orleans. Here’s why.
The path to London 2012 was not an easy one. I have dim memories from my childhood of several unsuccessful Olympics bids from northern city Manchester. As Manchester gave up and London began its bid for 2012, the capital faced keen competition from Paris, which was the favourite to win until right at the end of the process. And when London was declared to be the winner, thanks in large part to the narrative of urban and social renewal it promised, elation was abruptly cut short by the 7 July terrorist attacks on the UK’s capital the next day.
Once preparations for the Games began, a very British sense of self-doubt in our ability to stage such a large-scale event set in. There were worries about further terrorism, but also more mundane concerns such as whether VIPs would get stuck in traffic and whether the city would shrouded in drizzle for three weeks solid.
In the end, it was all fine. The sun shone (sometimes) and the rain mostly stayed away. The event ran pretty smoothly, or at least snaggles were overlooked or forgiven as UK athletes hauled in more medals than ever before and the event as a whole produced its usual astonishing displays of sporting excellence. But for me, and perhaps for many in the UK, the real highlight was the opening ceremony.
Fast-moving, multi-layered, and probably incomprehensible in parts to those who don’t know the UK well, it was widely lauded here and elsewhere as an accurate representation of the best of British culture and, like all other great Olympic opening ceremonies, for showing how the Games are about more than just sport. Aspiration, justice, freedom, unity, peace: these are the kinds of things that the Olympics can represent when they operate at their best.
Which brings me to New Orleans. No, it is not a city most well-known for sport. And there are some serious practical impediments to the prospect of New Orleans 20-something-or-other. When I asked eminent New Orleans geographer and urban commentator Richard Campanella about this idea, he raised some of the key ones: limited space for new specialised sporting venues; extreme heat and humidity; hurricanes.
With respect to Campanella’s good points, others think that the city, like London, could overcome its obstacles. There is a New Orleans 2024 Facebook group, though it is now too late for the city to bid for those Games. Local sports reporter Fletcher Mackel wrote an article in support of the idea of a New Orleans Olympics, pointing out that there are many potential venues already in place and flagging up the city’s strong pedigree of successfully hosting many large-scale sporting (and other) events throughout the year.
These are good arguments, and for me a New Orleans Olympics also has other kinds of compelling logic that go beyond sport. As we saw in London and are seeing in Rio, the Games can bring the world together and New Orleans is one of its cities best-placed to do so. While New Orleans has a distinctive culture that is all its own, this culture has arisen from the way in which it has long been a meeting point for people from all over the globe and its influence stretches far beyond the city’s bounds.
It’s not all been plain sailing, of course. Like London, New Orleans has endured social, political and environmental difficulties over the decades since the founding of the modern Olympic movement. But just as London 2012 marked a culmination of decades of change, regeneration and resurgence in one great world city, an Olympic Games in New Orleans could be a powerful symbol of endurance, momentum and rebirth in another.
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