By Mike Talbot
It’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part. Actually that’s not the Olympic motto, which is rather boringly “Swifter, Higher, Stronger”. Nevertheless, as soon as Jacques Rogge said “Lon-don” almost six years ago, I’m sure people all over Britain thought “Great – I’ll be there”. I certainly did.
Of course, I meant “taking part” in the loosest possible sense. I am, surprisingly perhaps, some way off the Olympic qualifying standard in all 302 events and 26 sports lined up for next summer’s games (although my reverse spin backhand serve might cause a moment’s confusion in the ping pong).
No, my participation was to be purely as a spectator. I wasn’t even that bothered what I watched, but I wanted to be there in person. If you’re watching on the telly, it doesn’t make much difference whether the games are in London or Los Angeles.
So I signed up on the official ticketing website months ago, which was enough to guarantee a steady stream of unhelpful e-mails. No matter, surely it would also guarantee some tickets?
Eventually, amid great fanfare, the starting gun was fired on the ballot and several million of us headed into the first bend quietly confident that a strategic application would result in a place on the crowded podium.
The first time I went through the list of events, I deliberately chose several of the less obvious (mountain biking, boxing, and, er, beach volleyball). And I deliberately chose the more expensive ticket bands.
Then I realised that if I got all of them, or even some of them, it would set me back several thousand pounds. Focus, focus… and a scaled down application for tickets at odd times, in odd venues, watching odd sports. It was bound to work.
The ballot closed and we were told that money – no idea how much or when – would mysteriously disappear from our accounts and then a few weeks later we’d discover what tickets we’d got. The whole process was shrouded in mystery but it would all be worthwhile when the tickets came through.
I’ve never checked my bank balance so often. I kept topping it up in case I got all the tickets I’d applied for. And almost immediately, nothing happened. A few days later, nothing happened again. Appeals went out from the media asking if anyone had had money taken from their account. Someone rang BBC Radio 5 Live to say their mate knew someone in Prestatyn whose brother-in-law was missing £500 from his bank account but it might have been a Nigerian scam.
It eventually emerged that 1.9 million people tried to get tickets – and 1.2 million failed. Never mind, said Lord Coe, there are still 1.7 million tickets available – for football matches.
Now I love football. In fact I have a season ticket for a Premier League club. But let’s be honest, when London won the Olympics, was my first thought “oh great, I can go to a footie match”?
Pub trivia experts will tell you the five Olympic rings represent the continents. They’re wrong.
The rings reflect the emotional journey of an Olympic ticket hopeful:
- blue for the colourful language on discovering you have to have a Visa card to apply in the first place;
- black for the colour your bank account stays as the allocated funds stay put;
- red for anger as you realise you’ve got no tickets at all;
- green for envy when your best mate gets a pair for the 1500 metres final and,
- yellow for the jaundiced view of the entire process.
But wait! There’s going to be a first come, first served penalty shootout for all of us who fell at the first hurdle. A kind of reject repechage (that’s enough sporting mixed metaphors – Ed). All you have to do is get up at 5:45am and spend an hour or two hurling abuse at the “Sorry, your application cannot be processed at this time” message and – hey presto! You’ve spent £400 on tickets to the basketball and, er, beach volleyball.
It’s not the taking part that counts, it’s the winning.
Mike Talbot is the editor of Wales This Week.