Jonathan Reed: Olympics will be a ticket for golden memories

LIKE millions of people around the country, I’ve had my fair share of battles with the Olympic ticket system in recent months.

Actually, I am one of the lucky ones – although I missed out on most of the tickets I applied for, I did manage to get a pair for a session at the rowing, one of the sports where Britain usually excels.

Since then I’ve been trying to top up my collection without success – most recently enduring the frustration of trying to snap up some of those being re-sold by people no longer wanting them, thinking I had succeeded only for the next page of the website to tell me no such tickets existed.

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But even if I don’t manage to get those tickets to see anything else, I can’t wait. I’m an unashamed Olympics enthusiast and am already longing to hear the first strains of God Save the Queen to mark the first British gold medal.

However, I’m also aware that not everyone feels that way – and repeated claims by organisers that the Games will benefit the whole country, and not just London, are taken by many with a large mountain of salt. After all, last summer this newspaper revealed the region’s businesses had failed to secure even three per cent of the major contracts and fewer than half a per cent of the supply chain work estimated to be available.

And to some, the idea of spending about £9bn putting on what is essentially a sporting festival at a time of severe austerity simply does not make sense.

It’s little surprise Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was in Yorkshire this week as part of an Olympic tour around the country, seeking to overcome any scepticism in the region. He was keen to point out that the turf for the Olympic stadium is from Scunthorpe, the flooring is from Leeds and the wood for the iconic Velodrome is from Sheffield.

In the run up to the event itself, the Olympic torch will spend six days travelling through every local authority area in the region – passing iconic landmarks such as Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, Scarborough seafront and the Humber Bridge – while thousands of youngsters will take part in the School Games, with the chance to show off their talent in the shadow of their sporting heroes at the Olympic Park.

And tourism bosses, already seeking to make Yorkshire a global brand that can compete against the likes of New York, hope to cash in by convincing thousands of international visitors to get out of the capital and take in the wonders of this region while they are in the UK.

As Mr Hunt put it: “Yorkshire has some of the most beautiful countryside in the country, there is so much to see here, we’re saying to people don’t just read about London, read about places like Yorkshire and come and see for yourself.”

Let’s hope the business benefits and the tourism boom come good and the Games justify themselves by that alone, as well as regenerating a previously derelict area of London and instilling a passion for sport in a new generation. Yet only the greatest optimists truly expect it to tick all those boxes.

In reality, the greatest benefit these Olympics could possibly have would be to bring some feel good factor to the country and put a smile on the face of millions of Brits in tough times.

At a time when unemployment has been rising, wages are frozen, family budgets under strain and the spectre of another short recession is raised by commentators, it can seem a pretty bleak world at the moment.

But for a few weeks in July and August, just weeks after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics should provide the perfect distraction – and the benefits could last well beyond that.

Imagine Chris Hoy storming to victory in the Velodrome, Rebecca Adlington taking gold in the swimming pool and Dai Greene crossing the line first in the 400m. Imagine our fiercest rivals, the Australians, trailing behind in the medals table for the second Olympics in a row.

Suddenly the media will be dominated by pictures of gold medals and beaming smiles rather than images of high street gloom and furrowed brows. Suddenly there will be something positive to take the mind off other troubles.

And that might just mean a few more people go for a night out, pay for a meal, even splash out on food and drink for hosting an Olympics party. Even if it does not provide an immediate economic lift, there’s a lot to be said for the benefits of brightening the mood of the British public in tough times – and politically that could mean an Olympics boost in the polls for the coalition parties. No wonder David Cameron talks about wanting to measure happiness rather than simply hard economic statistics.

The Olympics are not going to be a magic bullet to transform a troubled economy, but if they succeed in bringing a healthy dollop of feel good factor then I’d say that is reason enough to get behind them.

It might even be enough for me to forget the frustrations of the ticket process.