Get Out Of The Way Of The Games

I often give the impression – particularly online – that I hate the 2012 Olympics. This is partly a function of my habit of taking the piss out of pretty much everything, partly because I do find it hard to take stuff seriously a lot of the time. And anyway, it isn’t true. I’m hugely in favour of the Games as a sporting event. It’s a global celebration of sport and for the athletes and sportspeople involved it’s the pinnacle of their career. I for one will be glued to the television watching the 100 metres final to see whether Usain Bolt can run quickly enough to go back in time.

But, but…

It’s the things surrounding the Games I’ve come to hate. From the compulsory purchase of homes and businesses to make way for the Olympic Park at Stratford to the draconian measures being put in place to protect the brands of the sponsors. I’m proud the Games are here, but more and more they seem to have arrived with an occupying army.

The other day I went through Marble Arch Underground station. Marble Arch is one of the closest stations on the network to Hyde Park, where there will be at least one Olympic event, and pretty much every area of the station off the platforms has been plastered with Coca-Cola branding. The escalators themselves, every single advertising poster on the escalator well, the columns in the ticket hall. All covered with Coke branding.

I’ve inveighed against the branding before, and no doubt I’ll do it again, but the bald fact is that without sponsorship the Games probably wouldn’t go ahead. This article in today’s Independent explains how, in the early 80s, the Olympics were on their last legs until the big sponsors were brought on board. But the article also goes on to point out that protection of those sponsors’ rights has gone too far. My sense, my overwhelming feeling, is that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, successive governments, and the office of the Mayor, have basically sold us to the sponsors in return for the hoped-for financial benefits of the Games.

Which should, in theory at least, be quite considerable. I’ve seen one projection which says around a million extra people every day will be visiting London during the Olympics. Some of them will be spending quite a lot of money and it will give a short-term boost to local economies where events are taking place. London will certainly benefit. How much the British regions will benefit is less clear.

Set against that is the inevitable disruption. Anyone who has lived in London for any length of time will tell you that travel can be a nightmare. The Underground just about copes most days, but if something goes wrong – a train breaks down or a signal fails – it can disrupt a significant part of the system. At Rush Hour, that can be a big problem. Add another million people a day to that mix – the majority of whom will be strangers to London and consequently will have no idea of alternative routes or even where they are most of the time – and the problem becomes much bigger.

Two Underground lines run out to Stratford and the Olympic site, the Central and the Jubilee. The Central Line can be a total son of a bitch when things go wrong, and the Jubilee runs through London Bridge, one of the busiest stations on the system. One broken-down Jubilee Line train, and things will get very bad there very quickly. The Games Lanes, traffic lanes designated solely for athletes, officials and media to travel between venues, will basically remove from use one lane from many of the busiest roads in the Capital; in addition, junctions with these lanes have been reconfigured so ordinary folk can’t turn on to them. No one really understands all of this – I spoke with some taxi drivers a couple of weeks ago and many of them said they’d received no advisories about where the lanes were and how to use them. A couple even said they were going on holiday for the duration because any financial benefits would be outweighed by the sheer madness they expected on the roads. One even said he’d probably find it difficult to get into London by road.

There’s also the massive security operation to consider. The colossal failure of G4S to deliver on their commitments to provide security has meant many extra troops – some of them just back from Afghanistan – being drafted in to cover. There are surface-to-air missiles on rooftops in the East End and elsewhere, apparently stationed there by governmental fiat over the protests of the residents.

There seems to be a sense of resentment here – not for the Games themselves, but for the sense of powerlessness they have given us. We had no say in the Games Lanes, which will certainly cause disruption. We had no say where the missiles would be stationed. We have no say over the in-your-face branding imperialism. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it seems we’re simply being told to stay out of the way.

There seems to have been a tacit acknowledgement of this resentment earlier this week when someone – it may have been Lord Coe, it may have been Jeremy Hunt, it may have been Boris Johnson, but it’s not worth checking – said that everyone should stop moaning about the Games and get on board and enjoy the great event. The subtext is of course, ‘everyone hates a killjoy.’

I suppose we’re too close to the Games to be able to have any perspective on them right now. I suspect – and it’s only a suspicion – that many of the things we were promised in the wake of the Olympics may not materialise. Bits of Legacy will probably be the first things to go. They’ll go quietly and without any fuss. There will be sad statements by Ministers that times are hard and it’s disappointing but we’re all in this together and savings have to be made and that will be it. The circus will fold its tents and leave town and set its face towards Rio in 2016 and we will be left behind.

I have no doubt that the Games themselves will be an enormous success. Records will be set, records will be broken. Some extraordinary sporting achievements will occur. Afterwards, when the dust settles, may be different.

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