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Faster, Higher, Stronger: Olympic Boost for the UK?

Monday, 30 Jul 2012 | 4:06 AM ET

After years of cynicism, Londoners appear to have finally taken the Olympics to their hearts.

In fact, I’m not quite sure whether anyone at all is reading this on the Underground, rather than having a lie-in before sending a few emails in front of the archery, while saying a prayer of thanks to the god of home-working.

Image Source | Getty Images

There is an uncomfortable air of the Roman “panem et circenses” — keeping the common people happy with bread and games — about the spectacle.

At a time when GDP figures suggest there’s less bread to go round than before, this huge set-piece event appears to have effectively transformed even the most sneeringly cynical into Union Jack T-shirt-wearing Team GB stalwarts, whose future happiness hangs on whether Mark Cavendish wins a medal. Apart from London cabbies, of course. They can still be relied on to hate the Olympics.

After the last athlete makes his or her grinning, waving exit from the stadium, the “bah, humbug” mood won’t take long to return.

The UK’s construction sector has been boosted by the Olympics throughout the financial crisis. Now that there are no more aquatic centres or velodromes to build, some of our builders may find themselves once more looking outside the UK’s borders for work.

Retailers may see their sales temporarily boosted by China or Turkey-manufactured Olympics-related tat, but that’s unlikely to make up for months of subdued activity.

The real hopes for the British economyfollowing the games lie in increased tourism, and the schmooze effect. The Prime Minister has predicted a 13 billion pound ($20.4 billion) boost to the economy from tourism and deals begun in corporate boxes throughout the Games.

If you look at the effort poured into an event like last week’s China Entrepreneur Club get-together, where FTSE 100 chief executives pressed the flesh with business leaders from the leader of the faster-growing markets, or the series of events planned in Somerset House, which has been taken over by the Brazilian delegation, you can see how keen the government is to make this part of the Games succeed. It’s also an illustration of how the power balance has shifted between the low-growth Western economies and more dynamic, faster-growing economies.

This makes the empty seats seen at some weekend events, blamed on corporates not filling their ticket allocations, even more worrying for British business. If these companies aren’t sending their executive over to press the flesh, a big chance could be missed.

After all, a few days watching beach volleyball in the rain might not inspire visitors to return to London — but the opportunity to secure investment in UK companies is what could really boost the whole of Team GB.

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