Thursday, 12 July 2012

London 2012...

I've got very mixed feelings about the London 2012 Olympics.

In many ways, I find elite sport captivating - I admire absolute commitment in any field, and think that the work that goes into producing an elite sporting body is astonishing. I like watching those bodies in action...much more than I actually like the competition element, to be honest. But I also love a good race from time to time, although I rarely support anyone, and certainly don't feel any particular national or team allegiance; I just like watching the performance and experiencing some of the tension and excitement. The Olympics is, or at least could be, an intense festival of such moments, and when London was first awarded the Olympics in 2005, I remember being concerned about what it would mean for East London (where I was living at the time) but excited about it too.

But now, two weeks away from the start of the Olympics, I feel very different about it all. I am appalled by the raging hypocrisy of selling the Olympics to the UK as a health-promoting event then conceding universal catering rights to two of the most rapacious purveyors of low quality food in the world; the crass commercialisation is nauseating. And then we have the attempts, verging on the lunatic, to eliminate the names of any non-sponsors - for example, the Ricoh stadium in Coventry, is being renamed the "City of Coventry stadium" during the Olympics....including all the road signs!! There's also the superbly ridiculous stories of attempts to stop caterers serving chips to workers on the Olympic site because McDonalds have absolute rights to chips, and the relentless attempts to hunt down small businesses - even those East London businesses supposed to benefit from the Games - to prevent unauthorised uses of "Olympic" and other associated terms.

And then there's the budget. In June of this year, it was proudly announced that the Olympics would be coming in at £476 million under the £9.3 billion budget, but it is hard to think of any other circumstance where making an original bid of £2.4 billion, then later quadrupling it, would ever count as coming in under budget. One of the costs overlooked by the original budget was VAT! Unbelievable. The lack of clear legacy planning for the facilities, post-Olympics, is equally worrying; the recently issued photos of the Beijing facilities, left to rot, should give us pause for thought.

And then there's what I consider to be the really serious stuff - the compulsory purchase of homes and businesses; the repression of free speech and the right to protest; the unwarranted and unacceptable militarisation of East London (missiles on roofs, soldiers on the gates); and the rise of stop and search in Newham (and the associated criminalisation of (some) young people). I would also add to this the raging nationalism and the rhetoric of winning at all costs.

So, I am ambivalent. I know that I will end up watching some of it on TV - the swimming (indoor and out), some of the athletics, the cycling, probably. Those elite sporting bodies in action are always a sight to behold. But I think that the way in which the Olympics have been marketed to, and inflicted upon, the UK is dishonest, and the willingness to erode rights and freedoms, especially of those living in East London, is shameful. It didn't have to be like this, and a more honourable government (both the preceding Labour government, and the current coalition) would not have allowed it to happen in this way.

To the athletes, I wish them every success, and to those who have invested in tickets, or who are volunteering, I hope you have a wonderful few weeks. I know that many people will not agree with my point of view on this, and I perfectly respect that. But for me, however wonderful the sport, it will always leave a nasty taste in my mouth, and I heartily wish that this had been done differently.

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