King Midas had ass’s ears. It was a humiliating secret that he was desperate to keep. And like the King of Phrygia, Whitehall tried to cover up the spiralling costs of the London 2012 Olympics.
But the truth emerged eventually. In the legend, it was Midas’ barber who told only a hole in the ground, where reeds grew and whispered the secret to anyone who came past. The corridors of Whitehall might not have had rustling reeds to tell tales, but the Government had to concede, after months of speculation, that the London Olympics bill has almost tripled from £2.37bn to £9.35bn.
But all is under control. Tessa Jowell, the secretary for culture, media and sport has easy access to the National Lottery purse. Thus allowing an additional £675m of good causes funds to bail London 2012 out.
As we all know, this is not the first time that the hapless National Lottery has been pillaged by New Labour. The Millennium Dome, with an initial budget of £758m, could not be saved by the lottery funds of £630m.
Already the Government is being warned that, like the Dome, the Olympics risks becoming an "enormous waste of money". Dissidents such as Lord James of Blackheath, the corporate troubleshooter who oversaw the rescue plans for the Millennium Dome, are already making noises that the Government needs to get a handle on running costs and sponsorship. And fast.
The Government will try to draw unwanted attention away from the cost overruns by hailing the splendour and magnificence of the Olympic games. But could this be another bad judgement call on Labour’s part, adding to Tony Blair’s legacy of failures?
That is not to say that the London Olympics does not have its champions. British banking giant Lloyds TSB has been signed as the first official sponsor. And it will come as no surprise if the likes of BT and BP sign Olympic sponsorship deals. For anyone yearning for any glory and legacy, the Olympics has all the hallmarks of being the perfect trophy. Even Camelot chief executive Dianne Thompson wants to stay on to help Camelot retain its licence to promote the National Lottery so it can raise funds for the Games.
The National Lottery will continue to deprive worthy causes to help cultivate the London extravaganza.
And it doesn’t need a rocket scientist to work out that our track record on running any mega project – be it the Wembley Stadium or the Millennium Dome, which have also been funded by the National Lottery – is hardly glowing.
Even if the Government struggles to make the Olympics a success and not a re-run of those debacles, the unfolding of this saga will be more than compelling to watch.
Midas not only suffered from donkey’s ears. He also had the ability to turn everything he touched into gold. The organisers of the Olympics will hope for a similar magic touch, both on the field and off it.