A Nightmare of Olympic Proportions

February 01, 2012

Multiple Pages
A Nightmare of Olympic Proportions

The omens were bad from the beginning. The day after the IOC awarded the 2012 Olympics to London and while Mayor Ken Livingstone’s bidding team was celebrating in Singapore, four bombs exploded on London Transport. It reduced much of London’s activity to a standstill. Mayor Livingstone could not get back in time to do his imitation of Rudy Giuliani, who actually was in London and could do his own imitations.

From then until the most recent bad news—Olympic mascots are being produced under Chinese slave-labor conditions—the enterprise has been dogged with as much ill fate as other Olympic projects. Those of us who have been arguing that this was a very bad idea, an expensive pharaonic project that will indenture us for decades, have been proved right over and over again.

“Why not have future Olympic Games in the same place every four years, as the ancient Greeks were supposed to have done?”

The explosions of 7/7 and the failed explosions of 7/21 suddenly reminded the government of the difficulties in mounting proper security at the Olympic Games. The original derisory estimate for security has now risen to £1 billion, according to a recent article in the Evening Standard, which admitted this reluctantly, as it has become a flag-waver and drumbeater for the Olympics. Prime Minister David Cameron was soon chiding those Moaning Minnies who would not support the wonderful opportunity that the Olympic Games will bring to London by pointing out that the presence of many multinational CEOs would bring in £1 billion immediately. He did not explain how that was going to happen.

As projected expenses doubled and tripled, as arguments unspooled between various personalities and organizations, as more of London’s streets were slowly dug up for works allegedly related to “London 2012,” it became obvious that other slogans had to be produced to retain support.

The Olympics were pronounced to be wide-open and inclusive as well as an instrument to revive sport. But the Olympic Games are hardly inclusive. They are open only to the highest, fastest, longest, and strongest, despite the introduction of such preposterous “sports” as beach volleyball in Trafalgar Square. Sporting activity has remained stubbornly unrevived, pursued by those who would have done so anyway. It would have been more sensible to spend a very small part of the money on new playing fields for children.

When that failed we were given two arguments, both risible. The first was that it would bring more tourists to London. The second was that it would create a wonderful heritage. 

London does not need more tourists, as it is overrun by them most of the year. Past experience of cities that held Olympics shows there is subsequently a fall in the tourist numbers and these may not recover, as Athens found out even before the recent financial crisis. The various tourist quangos answer that they knew London would be different. Apparently not. Late last year the same quangos told us that projected hotel bookings for the summer of 2012 were significantly lower than in previous years. Whatever may happen during the actual Games, the Olympic curse already seems to be striking London.

The notion of creating some sort of heritage is even more ridiculous, especially since no one has ever been able to define it. Halfway through last year Steve Norris, former MP, former mayoral candidate, and someone involved through various quangos with the Olympic project, was still trying to whip up support by robustly proclaiming that the Games will have to leave some sort of a heritage to England. This, despite the fact that other countries who hosted the Games found themselves deeply in debt, often with specially built structures that have become derelict.

As predicted, the jobs that the whole project was going to bring to a high-unemployment area have been taken by all and sundry outside that area, since nobody bothered to examine why there was high unemployment there in the first place. The so-called Zil lanes designed to rapidly carry all those who are connected with the Olympic Games through London are causing enough discontent for Chairman of the British Olympic Association Lord Moynihan to announce that he would be using public transportation. This provoked another outcry: Given that London Transport has expressed doubts it would be able to cope with the large influx of visitors for the Games—and given its general track record—the idea of grandees huffing and puffing on the Tube is not heartening. Canary Wharf, an area that brings in daily profits, will be severely inconvenienced, with people who work there wondering if they would be able to use the Tube’s Jubilee Line.

The whole enterprise carries an unforgivable amount of expense, inconvenience, and pointlessness, especially since its primary aim seems to be creating a grandiose project to glorify politicians. If we must have Olympic Games at all, it is time to end their peripatetic nature, which adds to the unbearable expense and the outrageous corruption. Why not have future Olympic Games in the same place every four years, as the ancient Greeks were supposed to have done? The obvious place would be Athens—on condition that they raise the money for the Games themselves.


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