The Olympics and the worst of Britain
With a vast amount of media attention, world leaders and famous athletes, as well as non-sporting figures, coming to London this week, it has proved an all too irresistible cliché for politicians to say something along the lines of using the 2012 London Games to showcase the “best of Britain”.
That strange breed of person, who confuses valid political criticism of how the Olympics are being run with stereotypical English cynicism, also populate the airwaves and internet, telling everyone to stop being 'grumpy' and embrace the events, telling of how all these famous folk “are coming here”, so we must put on a good show. Aside from the general stupidity of these arguments (Britain has enough heritage and other attractions to reel in famous people and tourists all year round), they have a glaring flaw in particular.
That is, it should be clear to anyone that the Olympics have been during preparation, and will be, a débâcle that only serves to underline various problems with British political culture. Lets take a look at but a few of these;
The C word. Corporate involvement has ruined the Olympics. Obviously there is G4S and the whole quality issue, but that aside, even a highly efficient corporate involvement would have undermined the spirit of the games. To see Lloyds bankers carrying the torch on an equal footing with local campaigners and sporting champions; to have McDonalds and Coca Cola at the forefront of a healthy food campaign; the fact that certain products that certain corporations don't like are physically banned from the grounds and that the stadium is accessed via 175,000 square metres of corporate retail outlets; and finally the tickets, 350,000 of which go to sponsors, especially in the bigger events, thus alienating most ordinary citizens from the games. All of this is contrary to the universalism and democratic essence of the Games. Over £10 billion of public money has been spent so the elite can have a party, while any possible legacy benefit has been killed off by cuts (the only part that might benefit most people is apparently the first to go). A fitting indictment of the corrupt dominance of rich elites in Britain today.
Failed legacy. London won the games on the back of grand promises concerning the potential legacy of the event. There was to be a 1 million increase in those doing sport on a regular basis, especially among an inspired youth. Moreover, the area of East London affected would see a massive regenerative boost while the stadia and Olympic park was to be a leading light in modern environmental sustainability. Already both Richard Caborn, the former Sports minister, and Jeremy Hunt have effectively admitted the million target cannot be reached in time, while the import of a temporary venue from Switzerland raised concerns of a “flatpack Olympics”. Talk of a green Olympics is purely symbolic. Ideas such as a carbon neutral torch and various offsetting schemes are empty gestures. Ultimately, the scale of the games means it cannot be environmentally friendly without a severe change in the way it is run. This would perhaps be forgiveable if the games was at a vanguard of calling for sustainability across the world, yet amid current wrangling over the very presence of a UK climate change policy, this cannot be the case. The jury is still out economically but past legacies set a worrying trend. Sydney ended up having to privatise most of its legacy to make up for extra costs while the idea that Athens 2004 somehow helped Greece's economy is surely a foolish one. In addition previous redevelopments of London such as the Docklands appeared to override the concerns of ordinary residents. Creating thousands more menial retail jobs in dull, bland shopping centres is hardly the most uplifting vanguard for an economic recovery.
Authoritarianism and paranoia. Most of this cost to the public purse comes from security, which is excessive. Britain is a very paranoid country and the authorities are obsessed with the fear of a terrorist attack. Putting tired and frustrated troops on the streets at such a busy time in such a climate of paranoia is a recipe for disaster. New laws and regulations have been created to forcibly stop any protest that might criticise the games or make it look worse. Peaceful demonstrators have been given ASBOs or special bails to prevent them going anywhere near the events. Only those who buy in to the restrictive ideology of nationalism and neoliberalism that London 2012 represents can attend, further alienating the ordinary public.
Missiles on rooftops. By far the worst example of paranoia is the missiles being put on the roof of a Leytonstone Tower block without residential permission. The argument is that such militarism is justified by the heightened threat of terror attacks in the games period. Yet what no one seems to realise is that the authorities are famed for constantly hyping up the terror threat, we seem to live under a constant “substantial risk” or “orange alert”. If this argument is accepted, what's to stop them keeping SAMs on rooftops everywhere by continuing to exaggerate the threat. One has to ask whether this is really a price worth paying to stop a potential terrorist attack. The true terrorism is to scare you're own citizens by putting military installations on their homes and residences.
It doesn't matter how many medals team GB wins or whether all the ceremonies and such go to plan. Ultimately this Olympics will be a great failure. There will be no legacy save for a huge burden on the public purse all to pay for a grandiose slice of corporate hedonism that so few of us really felt part of. Rather than showing the world our successes and strengths, we will instead reveal our worst features. Our paranoid militarism, excess authoritarianism and corrupt political system will all be revealed to the globe.
The eyes of the world are upon us and all we can do is stare back and watch the débâcle unfold.
You can read Alan Belmore's response to this article here.