Today has finally arrived when London gets a chance to cement it’s place in history and welcome the world to the 2012 Olympics.
I must warn you, this is a very negative post. I try to find light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the post but I may well need your cheering up in the comments if you can spare me a few moments!
A, no doubt, stunning opening ceremony directed by Danny Boyle will open the next two weeks of pain and glory for athletes from all over the globe. It should be an amazing and exciting experience but walking around London and listening to people may leave you feeling a little torn about the whole thing.
I arrived home just over a week ago. I have not been here for a year and it’s clear that the government has been busy glossing everything over and organising this colossal event.
In parts the city look amazing, like it’s been ShamWowed by a grinning white toothed salesman, it’s full of slow moving zombie-like tourists from all over the world and many 2012 logo brandished youth (and retirees) are scattered around for once gainfully employed rather than littering the streets scratching their behinds.
So why are Londoners unhappy?
There is no hiding it or twisting of figures. Hosting any large scale sporting event is expensive. The bid was won by London on the belief that it may cost a measly 5billion pounds. That just seems like a joke now that most reports are accepting the cost of the games will actually be somewhere around 11billion pounds. I think if you try to type that number into a regular calculator it screams EEEEEEEE’s at you!
However surely we should fear not with large scale sponsors like McDonalds, Coke, Visa and Adidas to foot the bills. The problem is these large scale sponsors, although kind enough to give away their money, seem to be being waited on hand and foot.
Recent news reports have alleged that people won’t be allowed into the Olympic areas with competitors products. Seb Coe even went as far to say that a person may not be allowed in wearing a Pepsi T-shirt (1), surely impossible to enforce! On a more realistic issue you may not be able to bring in cans of Pepsi or any Pepsi owned product or anything from non-sponsors. All food may have to be sponsor brand or no-brand (1). Inside the Olympics village it’s being said only McDonalds fries will be able to be served and obviously Coke beverages. It may also be the case that vendors and business around the Olympic areas will be forced to comply with policies to bend over backwards for these sponsors.
Then there are the tax breaks. All revenue earned by sponsors and foreign Olympics workers such as athletes and trainers is tax-free. McDonalds have publicly said they will pay tax on their earnings in good faith but they could u-turn or only partially pay if they like. Coca Cola look likely to follow suit but Visa hasn’t said a word as yet. It also means all the prize money, individual athlete sponsor deals etc etc will be earned on British soil and not a penny of tax will legally have to be collected (2).
Then there are the woes of stuffing 100s of 1000s more people into a city that is already choc-a-block! The organisers are of course worried about this and there is a government campaign that just about amounts to telling Londoners to piss off when the Olympics are in session! The campaign centered around the idea of “getting ahead of the games” (3) and slanted to supposedly help us out is warning people to stay off trains, roads and anywhere during the hours of the games. I think it just about says to Londoners:
“Hey guys, we are hosting the biggest sporting event in the world in your backyard but we want you to stay inside because, frankly, there isn’t enough room for you peasants. Why not take three weeks unpaid off work and rot away in your bedroom watching us pat ourselves on the back live on the BBC”
On the transport side, people are not happy with the way things work as they are. I like London transport but it’s been many years since I had to use it daily and you hear of lengthy delays and poor excuses such as “leaves on the line”. The trains and tubes will no-doubt suffer and some bus routes already running at capacity will just not function properly. Then there are the Olympic lanes. Entire lanes of major roads have been cut off to regular traffic (already in effect pre-games) and will only allow Olympic related traffic to pass down them. In many 2 lane areas this means traffic has already doubled up and rush hour is lasting more than twice as long. There are even some reports that a badly planned area near Hyde Park leave motorists with a choice between only a bus lane or an Olympic lane, both illegal places to drive! I have not seen this myself so it may be a myth but it adds to the disdain felt by people.
Things people should be happy about, and why they are not!
So there is more things that are making people upset even though on the face they should be good.
The Olympics will kickstart the country again – It took Montreal 30 years to pay off it’s Olympic debts and in recent years both Spain and Greece have not been able to keep the Olympic spirit alive long enough to save them from the hell they are now in. The Olympics doesn’t save an already ravished economy and more often than not leaves a country in serious debt.
The transportation systems will be left wildly improved – Granted there have been some improvements. The Docklands Light Railway now runs south east of the river, many Tube stations have been upgraded and some lines extended, as well as new buses and improved road structures (debatable). The problem is, a city the size of London with a transport system as profitable as it is shouldn’t need a two-week event for these improvements to be facilitated.
It’s a chance for London to celebrate having the greatest event in the world on it’s turf – There will be some great moments and the reserved British pride may well look more like American pride if we happen to chance on a medal. Flag waving aside most Londoners can’t access the games. Money is tight and it was an actual lottery to try and pick up a ticket. Opening ceremony tickets were rumored to be close to 1000pounds alone. This means that all many Lononers will get to see will be lots of sponsorship logos and traffic woes, not a celebratory time at all!
Local business will flourish - Yes, for two to four weeks only. Then what? Everything will go back to normal. Those two week earnings may be just what some business needs to stay afloat but unless the economy improves fast it may be just prolonging the pain and agony and anyway big business has seriously muscled in to take the lion’s share.
It has created many jobs – Like the games themselves much of these jobs are temporary. A brief building boom and now jobs during the games themselves. You would think in these troubled times that someone would be in complete devoted thankfulness to the Olympics for two weeks work. Well sadly it may not benefit them at all! Here is a transliteration from conversing with a benefits officer that I know.
“The security company G4 has employed a lot of people for the two weeks of the games. They will then effectively lay them off for two weeks and the re-employ them for the Paralympics for two weeks. Four weeks work should be good but many of these people are dependent on job seekers allowance and benefit as they have been unemployed in this terrible economy. However their benefits will stop and they will need to reapply in a process that can take weeks. Also a benefits run on period for a month supposed to help people getting back into work only comes into effect for people who get employment more than four weeks in length, this split four weeks does not count and their benefits will just be cut outright.”
Basically a two-four week Olympics job could cost you more than you earn from it, if you rely on benefits! Not good for people just trying to survive!
There has been a ton of new infrastructure and regeneration of run down areas – There will be some possibly good lasting effects of the building works especially in East London. However some areas have been gentrified pushing essentially “the poor” out of the area to new pastures. In other parts of London much of the work is just akin to a lick of paint. Just scrubbing over the dirt of an area and doing nothing to help people makes them resentful, I am seeing this in Woolwich, my home town. Also many of the structures are temporary effectively leaving blank space in their wake. Some structure are slated for continued use but how much use to the general public they will be is waiting to be seen.
And now finally, my point: WE ARE THE MAIN SPONSORS
The games are costing a massive 11billion pounds by conservative estimates. Of course the organisers are bending over backwards for the kind sponsors of this wonderful event. The problem is they are ignoring the main sponsor of the games, the British taxpayers!
Of that 11billion pounds it seems only approx 2billion pounds is coming from the private sector. That means that taxpayers are spending 9.3billion pounds directly and potentially more indirectly (4).
That may be the genuine root of all the unhappiness. No doubt Coke representatives have been showered with free tickets, where are ours? They have been given pre-games stadium tours, where are ours? They get to use the Olympic lanes and their investments will most likely earn them far more than they have spent.
The British taxpayer looks to be left with debt, a games they couldn’t attend and picking up the pieces of two weeks of hell at work. Some people have been displaced and made to move out of the areas their family spent their wholes lives in and there is no guarantee any effect of the games will continue past a few months.
People just wanted to be consulted more and involved. This could have been “the grassroots Olympics”, not “the pompous elites brushing the annoying people aside Olympics” event it seems to be becoming.
Shouldn’t an event treat it’s main sponsor with more respect?
A glance towards the light…
Us Brits love a good moan. It’s in our culture and we are not always as miserable as we outwardly seem (in opposition to American’s who are often far more miserable than they seem!).
Secretly each and every one of us who were born, raised or live in London have a little excitement about the whole thing and it would be a lie to deny there is a buzz about the city.
I love seeing all the tourists and have been chatting with some in various coffee shops and helping them with directions.
I have been walking most places to avoid traffic and although I normally do that it seems many others are too, this is ultimately a good thing and I hope the walking continues after the games.
The lasting effects may be far wider than I am anticipating and maybe this will be the resurgence of GREAT Britain as the government media keeps telling us. Maybe we won’t end up in debt for as long as other countries!
Maybe we are all just spending to much time looking at the dark and are ignoring the light?
I would love and sincerely appreciate all your comments and thoughts.