So it’s all over at long last, London 2012. It’s not that I’m a party pooper, in fact I was practically glued to the TV during track and field week, it’s just that there’s only so much excitement a girl can take.
Having not had the opportunity to flee the city like so many others in the wake of warnings of chaos and gridlock, I caught a glimpse of what life might be like in a totalitarian state. The streets were eerily deserted as thousands of people made their way to the Olympic venues, a strange light in their eyes as they advanced forward holding tiny Union Jacks. Their smiles did not falter as soldiers manning the gates checked them over and the surface to air missiles twitched on Blackheath Common. And if they minded being forced fed McDonalds, the only food retailer allowed, no one said. Open a newspaper, watch the news, and the Olympics was the only show in town, anything else was a footnote.
The mood became more and more euphoric as Britain’s gold rush gathered pace and dismay about the number of empty seats soon forgotten about. Indeed talking publicly against the Olympics at this stage would have been regarded at best disloyal at worst a criminal offence. I’m not joking. Several people had been banned from going anywhere near any Olympic venues because they had staged protests during the run up to the Games.
When it was announced on the eve of the Paralympics that security would be scaled down, including the shrinkage of the no-fly zone over the capital, it was done in a matter of fact way, as though it was entirely normal for London to undergo military lockdown in the first place. Who were we supposed to be at war with anyway?
Clearly, the Olympics were serving their purpose – creating a huge wave of well being during a time of austerity. The Romans called it bread and circuses. Attempts to make the most of the feel good factor continued through to the Paralympics. It was text book case of mass hysteria.
But try as the news broadcasters did, it was clear early on that the Games would not be the money spinner they were hyped up to be. Tourist numbers were down and outside the main venues it seemed like Christmas. Then rumbles about the nature of corporate sponsorship began to resurface, with Atos in the firing line for having the brass necked gall to champion the disabled through their sponsorship of the Paralympics while denigrating them by getting their benefits cut on behalf of the government. You couldn’t make it up.
And how about Cadbury, McDonalds and Coca Cola promoting an event showcasing the super fit? This was talked about early on, as was the fact that Visa was the only credit card permitted for use at venues and attendees were banned from wearing clothing bearing logos that rivalled any of the sponsors. But when questioned the Olympic authorities were allowed to have their say unimpeded by anyone offering a counter view, and in the end it all seemed so reasonable. Nothing more was said.
So what would Jesus have done? I got an idea from my parish priest who in the opening week of the Games gave a sermon attacking its dominance by big business. He was prompted by a Gospel reading of Feeding the Five Thousand – the story of how Jesus managed to feed a multitude of hungry people with only five fish and five loaves of bread. The priest recalled the “joyous occasion” of the Olympic torch relay as it passed by the church but how it was headed by three of the main sponsors advertising their wares. “Then came the woman holding the torch, but nobody knew who she was,” he said, concluding the Olympics were suffering from an “identity crisis”.
The cost of the tickets, the difficulty of buying them in the first place, and the empty seats also spoke volumes about the attitude towards Londoners themselves. Many had put up with a huge amount of disruption and outright contempt when it came to their rights versus the Greatest Show on Earth. It would have been a welcome, inclusive gesture to have offered those living in the host boroughs, at the very least, easier or cheaper access to the Games. But the cynic in me reckons that such people would not generate as much cash as tourists, so the thought never entered organisers’ minds. Tickets instead were given away for free to corporate sponsors, who did not bother to use them all up.
The Games were but a hot skip and jump away from where I live but I had to watch them on TV or sit in front of the big screen in Haggerston Park. You see, I may have disliked the Olympics because of what they had come to represent but I loved the sport and got caught up in the excitement like everyone else, ignoring the jingoism that meant, beyond the likes of Usain Bolt, you didn’t have a clue about the star athletes of other nations. If you don’t believe me, name one Chinese gold medal winner, not including the young swimmer accused of being a drug cheat. Remember, China came second in the medal table rankings, two places above Team GB.
If our girls and boys did well it is because a huge amount of money had been invested in them, unlike sport for us mere mortals. If the Olympics proved anything, it is that there is a bottomless pot of cash available for the government’s pet projects and schemes. So, school playing fields continue to be sold off and sports centres and swimming pools closed down because of the cuts. I wonder when reality will manage to burst through the feel good factor?
There’s no doubt the Olympics will be milked for its worth in the ensuing months, until something else comes along to fill the void. May be a royal baby. As for the Olympics legacy, that is so vague a term as to offer plenty of mileage for endless chat, especially in terms of the regeneration of Stratford along the now familiar development model of retail, luxury apartments and leisure facilities.
You have been warned.