Olympic cheat

I applied for 2012 Olympics tickets yesterday.

On the face of it, this was a “no-brainer”: a decision so logical that it doesn’t require explanation. Yet, it’s also a compromise or even a cop-out: a denial of deep held views.

The Olympics is no benign sporting movement. That much, I think most people accept. It’s 19th century, Corinthian, amateur ethos was lost somewhere in a succession of games used first for political ends, more recently to extend the global reach of less than benign multi-national corporations. Though I’m sure there is an argument that the Olympic ideal died before Baron de Coubertin’s modern version rekindled the flame in 1896.

2012 Olympics host announcement 6 July 2005

2012 Olympics host announcement 6 July 2005

On an overcast and less than seasonal day, like many thousands of Londoners I crowded into Trafalgar Square on 6 July 2005 around midday. The event: the announcement of the winner of the 2012 bid.

Looking back much has happened in London, in the world, in sport. Less than 24 hours later I was sitting in an office block overlooking Waterloo Bridge listening the wailing sirens, trying to comprehend the carnage across the city.

In Trafalgar Square I was expecting – as were a lot of “pundits” – to hear that Paris had been successful. The UK delegation had, by all accounts, put together a strong bid backed by a united local and national political front. Say what you will about him, but Seb Coe – who I’d never rated much when he was an MP – played a blinder.

Paris though was the strong favourite. I dearly wanted Paris to win.

That “strong bid” had many strands. It played upon Britain’s sporting heritage. The bid focused upon regeneration of East London and the promised legacy. London would be a green games. There were also words about improved transport links.

My view was and remains that no Olympic bid by any city will ever much the hype and propaganda.

There is plenty of evidence (pdf) that points out that building big sporting venues does not generate economic activity other than that directly involved in the construction of the venue. Sporting venues re-direct economic activity. The Olympics happen every four years. That economic activity will happen. The question is just where in the world the games take place.

I’d argue that the games should take place in Athens every four years. Greece spent billions building facilities for the 2004 games. Many of the facilities – baseball and hockey stadiums, for example – never to be used again.

The legacy issue (pdf) is not straightforward. As someone who used to walk the mean streets of Bow, believe me, the area needs improvement. It needs better housing, better transport and a sustainable economy (but then the same could be said of North Devon). However, the regeneration does not need a sporting event. Sure, the Olympics can act as a catalyst. But, regeneration needs investment and planning neither of which require pole vaulters or carbon fibre bikes. Of course, the construction boom in and around the area should be kicking off the economy, but those construction jobs are temporary and many of them not locals either.

The stadium legacy saga has been ludicrous. Tottenham Hotspur’s bid to remodel the Olympic stadium for football and renovate Crystal Palace athletics stadium made much more practical and economic sense. I’m glad the my club are not leaving their long time home. But, this crucial issue should have been hammered out before 6 July 2005.

I don’t know enough about the environmental credentials of these games. I’m sure that it’s about as sustainable as any other concrete laying exercise.

Yes, I have strong reservations about the 2012 games. And, I’ve not even mentioned:

  • security issues
  • forced displacement
  • bypassing the democratic planning process
  • the corporate swill trough

But, I still love sport, the thrill of walking into a vast sporting arena and the roar of the crowd. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I hope I get tickets. But, I hope we’re not paying for this beyond September 2012.

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