Enjoying the Olympics and criticising their cost are two separate debates

WHEN I was at school, I never really liked sports day. I found the attempts to invent rivalries based on random teams silly, and never found an event at which I excelled. I’d have preferred to be at home. The consolation was that we weren’t in lessons, so I did my best to enjoy the occasion.

I tend to view the Olympics as a glorified sports day. Athletes compete in random teams, but we celebrate individual excellence. The atmosphere tends to be friendly, but the Games demonstrate the importance of competition and personal dedication. As a football coach, I’m a firm believer in the power of sport to motivate young people and instill useful habits and mindsets. Over the next few weeks, there will be opportunities to watch people, at the height of their physical and mental prowess, compete in an array of sports.

It may appear inconsistent to claim to enjoy watching these sports, but then only do so once every four years. But that’s sort of the point. Last weekend I went to the Open. I don’t play golf, and I rarely watch it on television, but I enjoy the opportunity to see people who excel at what they do. And, of course, most of the Olympic events that people mock – the weightlifting, the archery, the judo – are rarely on television at other times. The Olympics are a focal point for mild sports fans.

Yes, there are significant costs. These aren’t just linked to hosting the Games – costs that are rarely recouped. But they also amount to both commercial and aesthetic disruption to Londoners, the opportunity cost of the resources being used, increases in authoritarianism, and the dangers of patriotism slipping into nationalism. There’s nothing like a Prime Minister telling me to be proud to be British to make me suspicious. And there’s nothing like every media channel in the country bigging something up to make me hope it fails.

But all of these costs are either sunk, as in they are already spent and can’t be reclaimed, or are outside of my control. Therefore, to me, they are irrelevant.

It’s a shame that people choose to disregard the Games on the grounds that they disagree with the use of public funds. I suspect that this is partly an instinct to be contrarian, but it’s also like going to a public museum determined not to enjoy it. If you would have enjoyed the sports were they privately funded, you can enjoy them if they’re not. How we fund an event, and the cultural pleasure we get from viewing that event, are separate debates.

Enjoying the Games doesn’t mean that you endorse them. I think that London 2012 is a waste of taxpayers money, and would have preferred the Olympics to be held elsewhere. But if they were elsewhere, I’d be excited about watching them. So I’m enjoying doing so while they’re right here on my doorstep.

Anthony J. Evans is associate professor of economics at ESCP Europe Business School. His website is www.anthonyjevans.com, you can email him at anthonyjevans@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @anthonyjevans