Has the north finally learned to love the Olympics?

The Guardian Northerner‘s political commentator Ed Jacobs has monitored our three regions’ scepticism towards the London Olympic fest over the past year. Are we getting excited at last?

The chair of the north west steering group for the Olympic Games has rejected criticisms from one northern MP that plans by organisers to fill empty seats at Olympic venues have an inbuilt bias towards the South.

Amid on-going concerns at the number of empty seats at venues in London, the game’s organisers, LOCOG, have sought to offer spaces to soldiers, teachers and school children, leading one of the our regions’ MPs to argue that given the short notice, there is an inherent bias towards the south.

Outlining his concerns, Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk explains:

We were promised these games would be inclusive and reach out to all corners of the UK. Yet the reality is those who will benefit from the release of further tickets are Londoners. People in the north who were unable to get tickets first time round will feel hard done by.

He continues:

People living outside the M25 will not be able to get to London at the drop of the hat and they will feel doubly aggrieved at missing out again.

His concerns, however, are rejected by Andy Worthington who is leading the Steering Group for the Olympic Games in the North West. Speaking to the Guardian Northerner he explains:

There are around 10 million tickets that have been on sale for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and there has been no bias in that system as to where somebody lives. Lots of people from the north west are going to the Games as we are constantly hearing about their stories of visiting different Olympic venues around the country. We are particularly lucky to have Old Trafford as a venue for the Olympic football competition and through an extension of the London 2012 Ticketshare programme have been able to distribute thousands of tickets to young people and sports fans who have been able to enjoy some Olympic action. Fingers crossed for Team GB women tonight, Friday 3 August, as we would love to see them playing for an Olympic medal in the semi-final at Old Trafford next Monday, 6 August.

Meanwhile, as the first week of the Games draws to a close, it seems clear that any northern hostility towards them has been dissipated as the country has become gripped by cycling, excited by the equestrian events and on the edge of our seats watching the rowing.

With polling last week still showing a continued scepticism about whether the games would prove worth their cost, last Friday’s widely-acclaimed opening ceremony directed by Lancashire’s Danny Boyle seems to have changed minds.

Polling published this week by ComRes for ITV news clearly shows a majority of people across the north expressing excitement at the games; the vast majority planning to watch them and a belief that they will prove a major benefit to both the economy and Britain’s reputation abroad.

So does this represent the north finally embracing the Olympic and the ideals that it represents? Very probably according to Andy Worthington. He tells us:

It’s gratifying to hear that the latest research is showing what we have known for some time now: that the north is engaging hugely with the 2012 Games.

It was inevitable that there would be even greater momentum once the Games began and as I write this Helen Glover and Heather Stanning have just won our first Gold, annihilating the opposition in the process. As more medals come along in the days ahead one can only imagine how the north and the whole country will respond.

But he warns that securing an Olympic legacy means being ready to build on the nation’s new-found enthusiasm for sport. He continues:

We have to be ready to capitalise on that massive spike of enthusiasm as part of an initiative called ‘Join In’. We are asking sports clubs and organisations up and down the country to open their doors on 18th and 19th August between the Olympic and the Paralympic Games, inviting their local communities to come along and try a sport which has inspired them. Already we have hundreds of organisations who have signed up, eager to make sure we can turn that enthusiasm and inspiration into a massive increase in long term participation in sport and physical activity – the real legacy of the Games.

What do you think? Has the north learnt to embrace the games? Or is the way that the Games organisers plan to fill empty seats evidence of continuing bias towards the south?

Ed Jacobs is a political consultant at the Leeds based Public Affairs Company and devolution correspondent for the centre-left political and policy blog, Left Foot Forward.

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