Will Government grab gold at London Games?
The turn of the year was always going to bring a significant shift in momentum around the London Olympics and Paralympics. After seven years of waiting, the start of 2012 brings with it a stark realisation that the Games are frighteningly close.
But the beginning of the year has also brought a major shift in the coalition Government's Olympic rhetoric. Prime Minister David Cameron highlighted the Games in his New Year message and will chair the first cabinet meeting of 2012 on the Olympic Park on Monday.
Can Olympic mascots Wenlock (left) and Mandeville help to boost the profile of the London 2012 Games and galvanise a frail economy? Photo: Getty
He will also use the photo opportunity to reinforce his belief that Great Britain should embrace the events as a showcase for the country and to squeeze every drop of opportunity from them at a time when the economy is in such peril.
Even the Olympic cynics would agree there is little point in now opposing the Games. They are coming and we as taxpayers have pretty much paid for them already.
We must also not lose sight of the fact that the Games are a historic, once-in-a-lifetime moment. For British sport, they offer the single biggest opportunity in decades to showcase our talent and sporting passion. Cameron deserves credit for recognising this and for embracing them.
Paul Deighton, the chief executive of the London 2012 organising committee (Locog), was only saying very recently that he was worried the significance of the Olympics was yet to dawn on vast chunks of the British public.
But that does not mean that we should just accept what Cameron and other ministers tell us over the next few months. Yes, the Olympics and Paralympics are great for Britain but will they help ease the country's economic crisis? Unlikely.
There is no clear evidence from any previous Games that there is any lasting positive economic effect from hosting the Olympics. In Sydney in 2000, one of the most successful editions of the Olympics ever staged, yet researchers at one university found the impact on the economy was actually negative.
Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary and the cabinet minister responsible for the Olympics, found it difficult on BBC Radio 5 live's Sportsweek programme on Sunday to produce any hard figures when it came to predicting the economic benefits from the Games.
He pointed to an extra five million tourists and a 17% increase in overseas tourism receipts in Canada following the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. But in Sydney, tourism as a percentage of Australia's GDP actually declined after 2000.
At best, we can say the evidence is inconclusive. Which is why we should just expect a bit of caution from politicians as they urge us to "just go for it", as Cameron did last week and will again on Monday.
At a time when people are losing their jobs, there is a greater need than ever to be vigilant on Olympic costs. Hunt said he was as confident as he could be that the Games would stay within the £9.3bn budget. But with £500m of contingency left and just over six months to go, it is clear there is little room to wriggle.
On the even more testing issue of legacy, expect more announcements from the Government this week.
Having scrapped the Labour target of trying to get one million more adults playing sport and a further million more active - whatever that meant - last year, Hunt will on Tuesday reveal the latest attempt to salvage the promises on participation and solve the decline in young people playing sport.
Lord Sebastian Coe, the Locog chairman, won the London Games by promising to get a new generation interested in sport. But ever since London won the right to stage the Olympics, there has been little progress.
In fact, the most recent figures from Sport England demonstrate a 100,000 drop in sporting activity among 16-19 year olds. At the same time, the Government's decision to scrap Labour's school sports policy last year is still attracting criticism.
Shadow Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell told the Observer newspaper on Sunday that Education Secretary Michael Gove had undone eight years work at a stroke with his "incomprehensible decision" to scrap schools sports partnerships.
Hunt will try to address these concerns on Tuesday when supermarket chain Sainsbury's is revealed as a new long-term backer of the Government's School Games to 2018. There will also be more money from the Department of Health for youth sport projects.
Will any of this be enough to really change the country's sporting habits?
Baroness Sue Campbell, the chair of UK Sport and head of the Youth Sport Trust, is not convinced. She wants to see a proper long-term strategy in schools that can help deliver on Lord Coe's legacy vision for the country.
Now, all of this will be set aside as we get nearer to the Games and the country gets swept up in the excitement and euphoria of British success.
That is absolutely right. But at the start of such a big year for British sport, we should just try to remember the reasons we decided to bid for the Olympics in the first place.