20 reasons why the Olympics are a disaster for London

20 reasons why the Olympics are great for Britainfrom The Independent today:

One: Visit Britain: We may not be able to rely on the weather enjoyed by Sydney, Beijing or other recent Games. But as long as Usain Bolt doesn’t mind a bit of drizzle, this is a chance to show off Britain’s capability. Just as the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee beamed images of a spruced-up London around the world, the Olympics offer a giant advertising opportunity for business and tourism.

Visitors to Britain will indeed get an image of what the UK is like today. This is a photograph taken yesterday at St Pancras Station passport control – after everyone in the queue had already been through passport control in Brussels:
UK border chaos at St Pancras (all already been through passport control in Brussels)

The “spruced up London” for the Royal Wedding? Activists were rounded up before the wedding and arrested on the grounds that the police had decided they might engage in protests which might disrupt the planned “spruced up” day. (As for how airlines can and do treat disabled passengers… Apparently airlines are not required to provide disabled facilities to passengers, with predictable effects.)

Craig Murray noted on 5th July:

The day after the announcement that air defence missiles are being stationed around London to guard the Olympic stadium from the Luftwaffe and the army will be covering the turnstiles from armoured vehicles, we have the arrest of six Muslims, three of them in Stratford, for yet another famous “terrorist plot”. The Guardian reports this as a “pre-planned operation”. You betcha.

What scares me so much is that is blindingly obvious what kind of society we are becoming, but so many people refuse to see it.

Don’t worry. The RAF is empowered to use lethal force. That should make everyone feel much safer.

Olympic missile in Blackhall

Two: Job done!: Ahead of schedule and under budget; the buildings have been up for months and, incredibly, there is cash left over. The last major venue, the Aquatics Centre, was finished a year ago, while the Athletes’ Village was completed in January. Ministers have £476m left in their Olympic contingency fund, meaning the final bill is likely to come in at less than £9bn – significantly below the £9.3bn agreed in 2007. Just don’t mention the original budget estimate of £2.4bn.

Actually, apparently the recent bad weather means the job isn’t “done”.

With less than two weeks to go to the opening ceremony, the main park remains a construction site, and national teams, who begin arriving in London tomorrow, will have to stay away.

One team chief said [on Friday]: “We were told the Olympic Park won’t open until the 23rd. This is a week later than what we expected. We were told this is because of some construction issues in the park.

“We were assured they are relatively minor but it has come as a surprise because we had been told for some months now that the park was on time and ready, and it isn’t.’’

Let’s also don’t mention that to get the figure of £9bn a number of costs had to be disincluded (Daily Mail – sorry):

the cost of buying the land for the venues, which currently stands at £766m.

But it does not include the £1.131bn being allocated to the police for extra counter terrorism during the games or the £4.4bn budgets of the security and intelligence services.

Nor does it consider the cost of having up to 12,000 officers policing the games instead of crime fighting elsewhere or the £6.5bn spend on upgrading transport networks.

Three: Country show: When Danny Boyle launched his concept for the opening ceremony, including real farmyard animals, rival mosh pits, a cricket green and a promise to create rain, even hardened Olympic sceptics were won over by its British bizarreness. Inspired by The Tempest’s “Isle of Wonder” speech, a cast of 10,000 volunteers will transform the giant East London stage into the British countryside.

Meanwhile, the supermarkets are screwing the British dairy farmer over the price of a pint of milk and an American billionaire was allowed to create a golf course in the Menie sand dunes, and the Tory Minister for the Environment seems to have been appointed for his connections rather than for anything he knows about the countryside. But yes. Let’s celebrate.

Donald Trump on the Scottish sand dunes

Four: Great expectations: From Sir Chris Hoy to Jessica Ennis and Dai Jones, Britain has gathered an army of potential gold medal winners for the 2012 Olympics. UK Sport believes Team GB is capable of winning up to 70 medals and has set a target of 48, making it the country’s biggest ever Olympic haul. And it’s not a case of blind patriotic hope either – even academics in the US put Britain third on their predicted medal table.

None of them, obviously, would have done nearly as well if we’d been lucky enough to have Paris win the Olympics in 2005.

Olympic medals placed at Tower of London for very safekeeping

Five: Fair play: Saudi Arabia’s announcement last week that it would send female athletes to compete in judo and athletics means this will be the first Games where there are female competitors from every nation. Qatar and Brunei, the only other two countries not to send women before, announced earlier this year that they would also be sending a mixed team for the first time. The addition of women’s boxing ushers in another big first, as it means women are able to compete in every Olympic discipline.

Also, LOCOG decided to hold the Games over Ramadan.

The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei should feel right at home in the modern police state of London 2012:

In addition to the concentration of sporting talent and global media, the London Olympics will host the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces seen in the UK since the second world war. More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.
….
Many [security] systems, deliberately installed to exploit unparalleled security budgets and relatively little scrutiny or protest, have been designed to linger long after the athletes and VIPs have left. Already, the Dorset police are proudly boasting that their new number-plate recognition cameras, built for sailing events, are allowing them to catch criminals more effectively.

Bahrain will also be competing at the Olympics – in fact the king’s son is a member of the IOC:

Mohammed Hassan Jawad described how he and Mohammed Habeebe al-Muqdad were treated by the king’s son at Manama Fort prison clinic on April 9 after they had taken part in a demonstration calling for the overthrow of the regime. “He started abusing us, began to flog, beat and kicked us everywhere,” Jawad told a dissident newspaper quoted by the ECCHR. “He took a rest and drank water and then resumed the torture by pulling us from our hair and beards. No one else was involved in our torture and hence agony… He ordered the jailers to put our feet up to beat us. The torture continued for almost half a day until dawn.”

But they can’t be that bad, they’re a British marketing opportunity:

Both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were named on a list of “countries of concern” drawn up by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) which has scrutinised in unprecedented detail the Government’s arms exports controls.

It showed that the UK has 97 current UK arms export licences to Bahrain and 288 to Saudi Arabia.

Bahrein military

Six: United nation: It began with the Olympic torch, which by next week will have travelled through more than 1,000 towns, cities and villages. But efforts to involve as many Brits as possible have gone further: some 70,000 volunteers have been re-cruited; free tickets have been dished out to 175,000 schoolchildren as well as 10,000 troops, and 250,000 people have already visited the park.

But if you want to get involved with the Games in any way that cuts into the IOC profits, you’re out of luck. Including, as I’ve noted before, if you want to provide free cushions to the Olympic and Paralympic athletes as a gift from British knitters. Because doing so in the Olympic Village would have meant taking up space which could have been occupied by a sponsor who was paying LOCOG for the privilege. No one on the Olympics committee wants outsiders involved who aren’t paying up – and the main reason free tickets are being dished out is because – as usual – there is a massive shortfall in ticket sales.

Olympics ticket costs

Let’s also not forget that one reason there were only happy cheering crowds around the Olympic Torch is that anyone who went near it for any other purpose would get attacked by the police.

Seven: Vive l’Angleterre: Just four votes gave London the edge over Paris in the secret ballot of 115 members of the International Olympic Committee back in 2005. Then, it was heralded as a “momentous day” for Britain, leaving Parisians crying in the streets. The least we owe to the tearful French is to look as if we’re enjoying it.

In 2003 Neil Gaiman described the Anglo-French relationship:

I’m English, after all. We have a special relationship with the French: we are in awe of their sophistication, their cuisine and their wines, we think their women are beautiful, we like them as individuals, we badly want to go and live in their country when we retire, while at the same time we are deeply suspicious of them. It’s like having people living next door to you who may be snappier dressers and better cooks, but who, after all, borrowed the lawn mower sometime in the thirteenth century and never gave it back. Anyway, the English dislike the French. We’re really good at it. We’ve been doing it ever since we got up one day and realised that the Norman Conquerors were now, like it or not, Us, and weren’t conquering French people any more. We feel, frankly, that if anyone’s going to dislike the French, it’s going to be us. On the whole we manifest our dislike for them by drinking their wines, buying up their cigarettes, and, despite the fact that all English people can naturally roll their Rs and speak perfect French, declining to do so, and when forced by circumstances to speak French the English do it with an English accent on purpose.

I am Scottish, and we have an even older tradition than the English of being perpetually at odds with our mortal enemies the Scots, but spending billions on the Olympics is, if you’ll excuse a Scot butting in on a private fight, a bloody expensive way of taking the crap. Hopefully Tokyo, Madrid, and Istanbul will learn from our example and just quit while they’re ahead.

Paris

Eight: Money spinner: Aside from the potential cash injection from visitors, the Olympics have brought contracts worth £7.5bn to more than 2,000 firms across Britain. Some two-thirds are small businesses and half are based outside London. The Government also believes the UK can derive more than £13bn in economic benefits over the next four years.

In other words, the UK is spending about £24bn, but hopes that almost all of that will trickle back in “economic benefits”. Incidentally, the Olympics Zones in London are also temporary tax havens, a huge benefit to sponsors (the well-known sports drinks at Coca-Cola and the well-known health foods sold by McDonalds) and while the IOC genuinely does expect to make billions out of the sponsorship deals, they’ll be paying only the minutest fraction of that to the UK. More of that later.

Nine: Park life: After reclaiming contaminated land, the Olympic site has seen the largest planting project ever undertaken in the UK. Tree planting will create the largest new park in the capital for over a century. Oak, ash, hazel, holly, willow, blackthorn and hawthorn have been added, as well as 300,000 wetland plants. The canals and waterways of the River Lea have also been cleaned.

But the Manor Garden Allotments are gone – destroyed by Olympics development –

“I’ve spent years nurturing my fig trees, cherry trees, apple trees and roses and artichokes,’ says one plot holder. Another has split her site into three: a vegetable plot, a shingle garden for birds and butterflies, a lawn with ambitions for a small orchard. ‘I have lots of wildlife habitats for wasps and bees and spiders. In spring, the pond has several dozen newts, and then I eagerly wait to see dragonflies emerging. I’m a newcomer, I’ve only been there 14 years. I don’t have a garden at home, so it’s everything to me.’

Before the plot holders were removed in preparation for their carefully-tended gardening being concreted over for the Games,

2012 Olympics preparations exposed users of Manor Garden Allotments to radioactive waste hazard, documentation from the period reveals. Failure to adequately investigate contamination in the former West Ham Tip landfill prior to extensive excavations also gambled with the health of local residents, construction workers and archaeologists. The Olympic Delivery Authority’s misleading media communications then actively sought to conceal the seriousness of the risks taken.

Documentation obtained through the Environmental Information Regulations show spoil was being excavated and stockpiled without safety precautions yards from the allotments while food crops were still being grown, and exposed areas containing unidentified radioactive material were left unmarked and unprotected.

Grape harvest at Manor Garden Allotments, 2005

Ten: Fine lines: The warnings have made it sound like the transport apocalypse is coming. But with all ticketholders given travel cards, it may not be the panic people anticipate. More importantly, once the visitors have gone Londoners will be left with far better public transport. The Tube has had a massive refurbishment. The new Javelin Train brings East London to King’s Cross and the DLR grew by 2.6km.

On the other hand, if you need to get to Guy’s Hospital or London Bridge Hospital for some reason during the Games – you know, like you work there or you’re receiving treatment there or you’re visiting a patient – well, I’m sure the arrangements for getting out of London Bridge Railway station will work just fine. All you have to do is find a member of staff and explain to them that you need access. There won’t be a problem with that, will there?

Guy's Hospital London

Eleven: Food fair: Serving 14 million meals is not normally a recipe for high ethical standards, especially when your main outlet is McDonald’s. But with bananas, tea, coffee and sugar to be Fairtrade and all 19 tonnes of eggs free range, organisers have made a valiant effort. Food miles will be cut down, and nothing will be sent to landfill from the park during the Games.

Just don’t ask for chips.

Chips

Twelve: Wide screening: Those who don’t have a ticket need not worry. Live screenings have been set up for people to cheer on the athletes – with 47 big screens across the UK. At least 500,000 people are expected at these sites every day during the Games, the biggest of which will be in London’s Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square and Victoria Park, where concerts and other events will also be staged.

But if you want to tweet, blog, or post on Facebook about the Games, unless you’re an “official partner”, there are certain prohibitions, as the Spectator makes clear:

Not only are many of the international logos, symbols and text (including, but not limited to, the words ‘Olympics’, ‘Paralympics’, the rings symbol) protected under the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995 (OSPA), but the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 (referred to as ‘LOCOG 2006’) prohibits the use of the words ‘LOCOG’, ‘London 2012’, ‘Team GB’ or any images, logos or graphics relating to them, amongst many others… As well as these terms prohibited from use by anyone other than official partners, but also companies that produce unauthorised products bearing similar words (plurals, translations, deliberately misspelled etc.) are liable to be fined, with directors of the firms liable to prosecution…

LOCOG also prohibits the use of certain terms together, especially those which if feels could create the appearance of ‘associations’ with the Games. The rules of ‘Listed Expressions’ mean that any use of two of the words in list A or any word in list A with one or more of the words in list B, could result in legal action being taken against the offending company. List A: Games, Two Thousand and Twelve, 2012, Twenty-Twelve List B: London, Medals, Sponsor, Gold, Silver, Bronze.

Fortunately there’s a solution, proposed by Waterstones on Oxford Street: Voldesport.

Thirteen: Paralympic glory: In the last three Olympic Games, Britain came second in the Paralympic medal table. With a home advantage and more investment in Paralympic sport, could we come top? Even if the UK doesn’t lead the podium, the televised coverage of 4,200 athletes competing for 503 medal events has the potential to have a major impact on attitudes to disability in the UK.

Three words: No Go Britain.

Certainly after the current government’s attacks on disabled people as “benefit scroungers” fuelling disability-related hate crime, it would be good if the Paralympics helped to reverse this: and also good if the Paralympics caused an improvement in access to public transport in the UK.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a Paralympian who won 16 medals during her career, told Channel 4 News that only a few weeks ago she was left on a train at midnight and forced to “throw my chair off the train and then crawl off”.

Inclusion London

Fourteen: Grand vision: Anyone who has already been glued to their TVs for the football Euros and Wimbledon better not expect to leave their sofa any time soon. Just as Andy Murray wowed audiences on Centre Court, the performance of Team GB on home turf is likely to have the nation enthralled. One in four Londoners is already planning sick days to watch the Games on TV.

Also because London Transport have decided the best way to handle the overload caused by the Olympics is to encourage Londoners not to go out much:

Fast forward two years and the reality of this “don’t use our service” policy is in full force. There’s a multitude of TfL posters encouraging us to work at home, get on a bike, walk, pole vault, travel on the roofs of cars, do anything but use the public transport system. We’re being handed maps at mainline stations with “handy” walking distances to various locations. “Walking is a great way to soak up the Games atmosphere and experience what is happening in and around the city”, the map helpfully advises. It might also be a great way to soak up the rain and a lot of sweat.

London Transport Chaos

Fifteen: Super heroes: Public investment in elite sport has increased hugely since Britain secured just one gold at Atlanta in 1996. Organisers were so terrified of the “Sydney effect” – Australia put massive sums into achieving results only to go backwards afterwards – that the Government has protected funding for elite sport until 2015. This should mean our performance at Rio will not be a washout.

But the next generation of athletes at primary school have had sports funding cut and Michael Gove has discontinued monitoring to find out if this has affected fitness for children. Still, so long as the Olympics in Rio look good – the Tories will be out of office by the time a generation of kids who never got into sports at school are old enough to compete.

St George's School sports day

Sixteen: Share options: For those outside London, Olympic experiences are not limited to catching a glimpse of the torch. While the main Olympic stadium may be in Stratford, many Britons will have a venue within reach. Football will be spread out in Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Coventry. Meanwhile, sailing will be in Weymouth, mountain biking in Essex, rowing at Eton Dorney, Paralympic Road Cycling at Brands Hatch and Canoe Slalom in Hertfordshire.

Oh, yeah. In the Scotland on Sunday today:

THE Olympics security fiasco reached Scotland last night when Strathclyde Police said it would have to draft in more of its officers to provide safety cover at Hampden Park.

G4S, the company which won the £284 million contract to provide security at the 2012 Games, admitted yesterday that it had only realised “days ago” that it could not recruit the 10,000 staff required UK-wide.

The Strathclyde force is now preparing for more of its own officers to plug the gap and make sure Glasgow is not seen as a weak link in the UK’s plans when eight Olympic football games are played at the national stadium.

The cost of policing the Olympics in Glasgow was set at £3.25 million but that now looks certain to rise. Senior officers said if it does they will be appealing to the Home Office for compensation.

Seventeen: Sporting life: Even before the first British athlete claims a medal, the Games could confirm Britain as a stager of the best sports events: Open golf, Wimbledon, Henley, Aintree, Silverstone, Premier League footie, cricket at Lord’s. The UK will also host the Rugby League World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Rugby Union World Cup, World Athletics Championship and Cricket World Cup.

*entire absence of enthusiasm*

We also have a major tax problem with football: did you notice Rangers went bust recently?

Eighteen: Sound investment: East London has benefited from the huge investment in the area. The £1.4bn Westfield Shopping Centre alone has created almost 9,000 jobs. The park itself will also offer a green space for local residents, as well as sports facilities for the area’s serious athletes. Some 8,500 residents of the London boroughs hosting the Games have secured jobs on the park, and already 600 are working at LOCOG.

London has an 8.8% unemployment rate: a total of 235,177 JSA claimants (and total number of unemployed is around 425,000):

In some constituencies the percentage of the population claiming JSA is over 6%: Barking; Bethnal Green and Bow; Camberwell and Peckham; Croydon North; East Ham; Hackney North and Stoke Newington (home, sweet home); Poplar and Limehouse. In four it is over 7%: Brent Central; Edmonton; Hackney South and Shoreditch; Walthamstow. In one, it’s over 8%: Tottenham.

Unemployment London

Nineteen: Mass observation: This year’s Games are expected to have the highest attendance ever, with some 7.7 million spectators and more than 40,000 athletes and press. The numbers will make for an atmospheric competition as well as boost the country’s coffers. Those watching it around the globe on the small screen are also expected to number more than four billion.

That’s very nice for the IOC, I’m sure.

Twenty: Irrefutable logistics: Feeding the Olympic park and village is just the start. This is Britain’s largest peacetime logistical exercise, equivalent to running 26 simultaneous sporting world championships. More than a million pieces of sports equipment will be brought in, including 99 training dolls for wrestling and judo, 600 basketballs and 2,700 footballs.

…Good?

Inspire a generation.

Olympics official cushion.

Update, 20th July:

Simon Walker is director-general of the Institute of Directors. He was previously chief executive of the BVCA, the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association and has been director of corporate communications and marketing at Reuters and communications secretary to the Queen. He was a special adviser in the prime minister’s Policy Unit from 1996 to 1997. He is a member of the Better Regulation Commission.

And he claims that the only thing that will disrupt or “sabotage” the Olympic Games is the PCS Union members at the Home Office voting for strike action on 26th July and work-to-rule thereafter until 20th August.

Oh right then.

2 Comments

Filed under Human Rights, Olympics

2 responses to “20 reasons why the Olympics are a disaster for London

  1. justin huntingdon

    you were wrong

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