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The Greatest Show on Earth

It may be said that the gods have punished us these many wet summer months for some misdemeanour of which we are unaware. But it appears they may have stayed their hand in ruining the most spectacular sporting jamboree on the planet.

By this time of year the country’s lush foliage is normally beginning to wilt a little. Sometimes even our abundant and lovely grasslands are looking a bit browned off. But with the way it has all panned out it has made this summer, of all summers, the lushest it has ever been. Truly, if the sun shines on all this, our sceptred isle will look like no other place on earth. The nations of our planet will return to their homelands realising, perhaps for the first time, what a beautiful place we inhabit.

With its cosmopolitan and multicultural dynamism they are unlikely to deny they have been privileged to spend a fortnight in the coolest city in the world, and the closest thing to an earthly paradise beyond its city boundaries.

Danny Boyle’s evocation of the Britain he cherishes I hope will do us proud. Someone once said that “it is not what you are, but what you would be”. I believe that to be true and beautifully put.

No event provides such an opportunity to showcase yourself as does the Olympics, and what a sporting year this is already proving to be. We came within a whisker of carrying off the Wimbledon title and Bradley Wiggins has triumphed in the mighty Tour de France in what is surely the greatest single sporting achievement in any of our lifetimes.

We cannot know how many medals we will carry off, but I am sure we will acquit ourselves well. We are, after all, fielding two and a half times as many contestants as we did in Athens. And we are on our own home turf.

What an inspirational overture to all the contestants about to mount the podium to listen to the melody of the Chariots of Fire. We made that film and with it we made the world’s heart beat faster.

We are a little nation, but the footprint we have left on the world is that of a giant. It is small wonder that the author of ‘Jerusalem’, the gifted but delusional William Blake writing at the height of the Industrial Revolution, believed that we were a chosen people favoured by god to be a light to the nations. Only that explanation, he considered, could account for such extraordinary and overwhelming success in the world.

Reticence and understatement are in our genes, but the world looks to, and expects, the host nation to lay out its wares. What are those wares? We have sent out our sons and daughters to every corner of the planet in the greatest diaspora in human history; we created the greatest empire ever known to man and seeded it with justice, law, democracy and the world’s first – and likely to be its only – universal language; and our scientists, entrepreneurs and engineers catapulted the world into the Industrial Revolution: the only true change in the human condition since hunter-gathers turned to farming. It is not too much to say that we have invented the modern world.

And let’s not forget, during this great celebration of human physical prowess, our own contribution to sport. Just listen to the roll call of competitive sports we invented: football, golf, rugby, cricket; baseball, tennis, polo, modern boxing, darts, eventing/horse trials, billiards, badminton, squash, hockey, snooker, sailing, motor racing and Formula One, table tennis, cycling, rowing, ice hockey; bowls, ten-pin bowling, some forms of skiing, mountaineering and curling. It doesn’t appear we left very much for anyone else, does it?

So as tomorrow you enter this great festival of human endeavour be proud of who you are and of what your ancestors have achieved. Try to live up to them – not easy, I know – but remember, too, those many, still alive, who bought in blood and treasure the liberties that we and the world enjoy today.

Recessions come and go, but in the great pantheon of the gods, you – a little people living on less than 1 per cent of the world’s land surface – occupy a special place. You have done wondrous things. For all our many and grievous faults, I remain convinced that history will be kind to us.

Now go out to get some gold and lay on the greatest show on Earth!

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