David Owen

Bond is back; not that I shall be dashing out to my local cinema to catch No Time To Die any time soon.

Yes, it does seem to me – admittedly on the basis of limited personal exposure in recent years – that this post-Empire incarnation of how the British male would like the rest of the world to see him has become a smidge far-fetched. But we all need a dose of fantasy escapism in our lives every once in a while, right?

It is more that I cannot see a mere motion picture ever coming close to matching the spoof stunt pulled off with such aplomb by actor Daniel Craig and the 86-year-old Monarch of the United Kingdom and various other Commonwealth realms during the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

The whole London 2012 project may be seen in retrospect as peak liberal, unfussed, laid-back, open-to-the-world Britain. Yet that was hardly the constituency to which the mock helicopter jump, stroke of edgy, postmodern genius as it was, was designed to appeal.

Novelist Jonathan Coe made this point hilariously in his 2018 novel Middle England.

In it, the character Ian, a Conservative-voting, and later Brexit-backing, speed awareness instructor – a profession essentially created by the surveillance society we now inhabit – breezes indifferently through the early segments of the Ceremony’s TV broadcast, until Craig/Bond makes his entrance.

A James Bond figure leapt out of a helicopter as part of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images
A James Bond figure leapt out of a helicopter as part of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images

At this point, his attitude changes: as Coe (no relation), whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Greece recently, writes: "The effect of these elements – the Queen! James Bond! the Union Jack! – was to induce in Ian an almost orgasmic surge of patriotic excitement, so that he leaped to his feet and shouted, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’"

A little later, Coe’s novel touches – once again in a sporting setting - on another aspect of contemporary "English-ness" that some may find at least as plausible and well-observed.

A golf-course discussion about why poet William Blake used the non-existent word "builded" in the anthem Jerusalem concludes in the following manner:

"'But "builded" fits the line better.'

"Mr Hu considered this, and smiled admiringly.

"You see, this is what I like about the English. Everyone thinks you are very safe, conservative people. But you will always break the rules. If it gets you what you want, you are happy to break the rules."

This character Hu Dawei, incidentally, is the Chinese partner of a British agribusiness engaged in exporting UHT milk to China – a detail which may strike a chord with students of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s The Olympic Partner (TOP) worldwide sponsorship programme, whose members now include China’s Mengniu Dairy Company.

Daniel Craig's - who was James Bond at London 2012 - final appearance as the unparagoned character comes in No Time to Die ©Getty Images
Daniel Craig's - who was James Bond at London 2012 - final appearance as the unparagoned character comes in No Time to Die ©Getty Images

Getting back to the debonair spy, the, er, bond forged in 2012 between him and Olympicland seems fitting not just because both depend for some of their appeal on a hearty dash of nostalgia, but because these days the Olympic Games is every bit as much of a money-making exercise as the movie franchise.

If you accept this, then other things – absence of official prize money for Olympic medal-winners, extensive use of volunteers for many Games-time roles – make perfect sense.

Also, whether or not you think the Games are worth the candle is likely to depend, in some degree, on what the sums raised are spent on.

Some of it, of course, goes to fund future Games, ie to perpetuate the fund-raising process. A fair bit of the remainder – though I have yet to meet anyone able to say how much – ends up in the pockets of the administrators who populate the global sports ecosystem.

Administrators are plainly necessary; indeed good ones are worth their weight in gold. But they should only be present in numbers, and drawing salaries, sufficient to make the system achieve its desired ends most efficiently.

In this, I would liken sport to another British institution given a prominent place by those inspired London 2012 choreographers – the dear old National Health Service.

How much of the money raised by Tokyo 2020 will be soaked up by sport’s sprawling, multi-faceted global bureaucracy, and what exactly are athletes, young people and society in general getting in return?

It seems a question of capital importance, especially with a lethal worldwide pandemic still on the prowl, imposing, at minimum, disruption and extra costs on every sports body on earth. 

Can anyone provide an answer?