Gina Davidson: Olympics must pay dividends

THIS column is being written under duress. You though, I hope, are reading it in the five minutes there is no Olympic action to watch on your telly.

Can you feel my pain? Are you asking valid questions such as why is this poor woman being forced to sit at a computer screen and write stuff – and possibly nonsense – when there’s Olympic archery on? When the beach volleyball is down to match point, when Team GB might score another goal against Brazil, when Bradley Wiggins is about to don a gold medal while wearing his cycle suit unzipped to the navel, his sideburns bushing out with pride like some kind of 1970s sporting god?

Good. But here I am, and hopefully here you are, too – if you’ve managed to get off your sofa long enough to go out and buy a paper when you needed more batteries for your remote control (pressing that lovely red button of cornucopia wears the thing out fast).

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Aren’t the Olympics just fantastic? I told you they would be. Even you naysayers who declared it all a waste of time and money, and just too corrupt and stuffed with drugs, where are you now? Oh yes, busy bigging up your knowledge about the intricacies of handball rules and whether the Russians can spike a volleyball with more velocity than the Japanese.

Who now cares that G4S isn’t even sufficiently capable to employ enough people to man the turnstiles at an SFL Division Three game, let alone an Olympic venue, now that we’ve won two gold medals with hopefully more on the way? Who can doubt that a generation of youngsters will be inspired to get into sport by what they’re seeing in London?

Such issues have disappeared like South Korea’s medal hopes in the badminton doubles.

And, let’s face it, with the truly dismal summer we’re experiencing, the BBC coverage of the Olympics is an awesome way of spending the time indoors. Right there is why it is worth forking out £12.12 a month for a TV licence.

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I’ve never understood the beef about the BBC and the licence fee. Although Danny Boyle didn’t have the broadcaster’s name up in lights as he did the NHS in his Olympic opening ceremony, the Beeb is surely as fondly thought of by the majority of people as the health service. What it gives us all for just £12 a month is truly phenomenal – the Olympics being perhaps the pinnacle of its brilliance.

There’s not a lot else you’ll get for £12 a month which offers as much value. In this era of austerity, every penny counts – a problem not even Olympic joy can make people forget.

While it’s great to be glued to the sport, realistically for families you do need to get out and about during the summer holidays and that will be proving a financial nightmare for those with school-age children.

Apart from having to fork out for new uniforms, taking them anywhere that involves being out of the rain costs a fortune. Even three-year-olds are charged for entry to attractions like Deep Sea World, Our Dynamic Earth and Edinburgh Zoo when, in fact, they’ll be pleading to go home five minutes after you’ve crossed your fingers and handed over the debit card.

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Now it seems that even the free, great outdoors could cost. Not that there’s been much cause to head to the seaside this summer, but we’re going to be even less likely to be tempted into doing so because East Lothian Council has come up with the great wheeze that people should be charged for parking at beaches.

That’s right, pay money to a flat-capped bloke in a makeshift hut – even if it is only £2 – to park on some grass. It’s even more outrageous than having to pay £1 to drop someone off at Edinburgh Airport.

I can understand the council looking for ways to squeeze more money out of its resources, but while it may “own” the beaches, in reality that means that they are “owned” by the people of the area, whose council tax already goes to the upkeep of sandy dunes and pampas grass.

Perhaps, though, the plan is just to charge those from other counties? We’ll all have to have our postcodes branded on our car registration plates so they know that we’re really interlopers who don’t deserve to set a solitary toe on Gullane Bents without forking out for the privilege.

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Let’s hope that the whole idea will be just flotsam and jetsam now that it has transpired the levy won’t actually get anywhere near raising the amount of cash the council had projected. There had been hopes the charge would raise around £900,000, but just how many people do councillors think use the beaches? Someone needs to show them a map and a weather chart. We’re not in Saint-Tropez.

It’s time the councillors stopped asking for more from taxpayers and looked at ways to encourage more use of the wonderful outdoors the Lothians has to offer for our physical and mental wellbeing – and to show children there are places to have fun which don’t involve landing on soft mats.

Hopefully, given Wiggins’ success in the Tour de France and now in London, there will be fewer cars anyway, with more people out on their bikes enjoying the Lothians countryside – perhaps even taking in a game of beach volleyball at Yellowcraigs. Now that would be an Olympic legacy.