The opening ceremony might have been a triumph (liked by most, though of course not all), but the Economist, in a leader article, noted that many Britons now resent having to pay for it since it has started.
Though to look at the cost alone is only one aspect of why the Olympic grand project went pear-shaped. I suggest there are three further reasons to think the games have been a grave mess:
1) It is doing nothing for East End communities
When Horace Cutler, the Tory leader of the Greater London Council, speculated that the 1988 Olympic games should be entered through from Lower Lea, Ken Livingstone called it a “gimmick” and a “fantasy”. A right-wing fantasy at that.
That all changed by the time 2008 came along when Livingstone was convinced that the whole thing could be a way of getting well-needed funds to East London and the Thames Gateway.
Though I get the feeling Ken was probably right when he called the benefits of the project to the people in the area a fantasy. The municipal housing schemes are not going to happen, instead Mayor Johnson favours part-buy part-rent, which will see tenants moving in and out all of the time, with the notion of community collapsed.
Right now Lea Valley, the park of which was designed as a “playground for Londoners against the background of London”, has been led further away from this principle, instead experiencing community divide (Iain Sinclair reminds us about the long-established businesses closing down, travellers expelled from edgeland settlements, allotment holders turned out etc.). This may be invisible now, but it came to define the Olympics for many families.
2) It is turning that bit of the East End in to a creepy state of exception
Demolish. Dig. Design. This was how the Olympic Delivery Authority described its milestones back in 2008. But they perhaps could have justifibly included Devious and Dodgy to the mix. Not content with turning the area, formerly a place that could accommodate for peaceful walks and bike rides along the canal, into an area of security paranoia, but also one with imposed blackout spots.
Isaac Marrero-Guillamón, in his essay Photography against the Olympic spectacle, where he used the expression blackout spots, says the area of Newham has since been used solely to reflect an intensive production of official imagery, diligently enforced by the police. “To this end”, he says, “the creation of an ‘Olympic state of exception’ … has become a defining feature of the Olympic mega-event”.
Certainly security for the games must be taken into consideration, but who could have foreseen the“long shadows of surface to air missiles over Tower Hamlets” and “warships moored along the Thames.” Drones that pass over shopping consumer arcades is a reality for the next few weeks, to be sure, though it has also been incorporated into the post-Olympic planning for the redevelopment of Stratford afterwards as well.
Its being the design for the future of the area evidences nothing short of the oversecuritsation of the communal place, not too disimilar from the “shouting CCTV” which could be found in the London Borough of Camden.
3) It is being done for the preservation of consumerism and the commodification of the sporting development of man, not of human dignity
Mark Perryman, author of the book Why The Olympics Aren’t Good For Us, And How They Can Be, re-imagined the five rings of the Olympics to symbolise community rather than consumerism. One of those rings represented sport as a value, not a commodity.
In fact, nothing does down the hard work and training of athletes, sports men and women, than faceless corporations sucking anything they can from them, under the banner of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity – the second in the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.
Another of Perryman’s new symbols represent sport for all, and sport for free. On this, he reminds us of the true spirit of sport, through a personal recollection, and reminds us that all is not lost (in spite of the Olympics):
“I can see myself as part of a popular movement of people who enjoy sport purely for fun and therefore are the antithesis of all that the Olympics has come to represent. I run free, for free. No rules, no sponsors, no entry fee, no national pride, nobody’s stopwatch to calibrate the results except my own. I run because I can.”
So can we have an Olympic games that doesn’t fall foul of all of these terrible things? As has been discussed we can enjoy sport, and in fact there is more sport to enjoy when all the airwaves we use to watch the games (at least the large majority of us who couldn’t get or afford tickets) aren’t clogged up with the plastic tat of the official sponsors.
Sports fans like sports, and conglomerates pretend to like sports to ensure that sports fans consume their stuff. What of this is sporting exactly? I would contend that the Olympics is a perversion of the true enjoyment of sport – as pure and free as it has been expressed by Mark Perryman above.