The 2012 London Olympics are underway, and already the organisers have come in for a considerable amount of criticism. If every critic is to be believed, then the 30th Olympiad is the least competent, worst-budgeted and most fascistic in the history of the Games.
But I’m sure that can’tbe true…
The games are already running ludicrously over-budget, and it’s going to get worse
The budget forecast when the bid was originally put forward – in 2005 – was £2.37bn. That would be roughly £2.8bn in today’s money.
This is far too expensive, even for the Olympics
Hosting the Olympics is incredibly expensive. But £11bn is costly even when we’re talking about an Olympiad.
A lot of commentators are comparing this with the 1948 ‘Austerity Games’ - the last Olympics hosted by the UK – which cost us £22.8 million (adjusted for inflation); this is a particularly cheap example, however – we almost couldn’t afford to host the games at all, and spent as little as possible.
There have been other Olympics with similarly… Olympic expenditure (all costs adjusted to 2012 levels):
- 1936 Berlin : £10.7bn
Aside from being the first televised Olympics, much of the expense here went on 325 acres of new sporting facilities (the Reich Sports Field), to better enable the entire event to serve as Nazi Party propaganda.
- 1964 Tokyo : £20.3bn
The first Olympics in Asia, this was Japan’s first showing as a modern post-war nation; the expense here was a vast programme of modernisation of infrastructure.
- 2008 Beijing : £20bn
The Chinese government originally planned for this to be the ‘biggest and best Olympiad of all time’; they later scaled down their plans, but the scale of the event was still vast.
…but these sort of budgets are far from the norm.
A much better comparison is the average Summer Olympic hosting spend – which is more like £3.5bn.
We’re spending £millions on things we don’t need
The UK in general and London in particular already has Olympic quality sporting facilities – and yet LOCOG decided to construct a 500 acre Olympic Park in the East End of London; requiring the forced eviction of over 400 families and 206 businesses.
The main Olympic stadium has been built on radioactive waste ground, which (of course) hasn’t been cleaned up. This made construction a bit cheaper, albeit considerably more hazardous for those labourers who plan on having children some day – and it does mean that the £500 million stadium will be difficult to sell or redevelop.
Particularly in a country with over 150 stadia, 11 of which have a capacity of 40,000+ – and two of which already have a greater capacity than the Olympic Stadium.
The security plan is inept and poorly thought-out
The security company G4S were originally contracted to provide 2000 security staff for the Olympics, following Home Office and LOCOG estimations that 10,000 security personnel would be required in total across all Olympic sites. This was revealed to be a “finger in the air” exercise in December 2011, at which point the government sat down and calculated how much security we would actually need (23,000); only then were G4S asked to increase their commitment to 10,000.
We’ve all known this for a while, but just take a moment to internalise it.
In 2006, a minister for the Home Office quite literally stuck his finger in the air and guessed how many security staff would be required to cover the entirety of the 2012 Olympics. He didn’t look at how many venues we had. He didn’t look at data from past Olympic Games. He didn’t contact other host nations and compare notes. He just pulled a number out of his arse.
Then – five years later - somebody finally sat down and decided to plan - to actually work out how many staff are required. Six whole months before the actual event.
This is incompetence so spectacular that I don’t think I have a grand enough superlative.
And then it gets even worse – because G4S have now come to Parliament, weeks before the Olympics are due to begin, and have begun to admit that they can’t actually meet the commitment of security staff they agreed to.
How many security staff can G4S provide? They can’t tell us. But it’s definitely less than 10,000 – and as only an average of 30% of their staff have been turning up to work, it’s probably safe to guess that they’ll be providing somewhere in the region of 3,000 – who will be required to provide their own accommodation and travel expenses.
G4S, for the record, employ 657,000 staff and were paid £284 million to provide the Olympic Security contract (of which they stand to lose a possible £50m)
We’re militarising London (and the Olympics)
To some degree, our government’s hands are tied – they put an array of incompetents in charge of the Olympics, and now they have to find a solution to that mess. Now.
Deploying 17,000 soldiers into the nation’s capital is not something that we should take lightly, however. Our military are not to be confused with civilian authority – we separated military and civilian powers after the Peterloo Massacre, for good reason. We need Emergency Acts of Parliament for British soldiers to be able to act on British streets as anything other than civilians. Rightly so.
Personally, I’m not really worried that our soldiers are going to develop a bloodlust and start killing tourists.
But I am worried about the impression it creates of the UK – the Beijing Olympics were (rightly) criticised as the ‘khaki games’. The Peoples Republic of China is a Totalitarian Communist state with a strong public military presence throughout.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is not – or at least it is not meant to be.
If we deploy all 17,000 soldiers as security to the Olympics then we will not only have deployed 1/7 of the entire British Army, we will not only have deployed almost twice our Afghan deployment, but we will also have deployed exactly one soldier for every athlete competing in the Games.
This does not create a particularly favourable impression; nor does deploying Surface-to-Air-Missile batteries atop tower blocks around the Olympic Park – also something we have in common with the Beijing Olympics.
And only the Beijing Olympics.
We’re in danger of turning London into a fascist state
It would be trite to directly compare the London 2012 Olympics – bedecked with billboards and posters from its major sponsors, employing private security to patrol the streets of London and enforce a ‘Brand Exclusion Zone’ : cracking down on any who violate LOCOG guidance or try to advertise competing brands – with the 1936 Berlin Olympics, bedecked as it was with Nazi Party insignia and iconography, with Nazi Party officials patrolling the streets to ensure that only approved propaganda was visible to the guests of the state.
But there are certainly more than a few uncomfortable echoes – all the more so when you read about harmless street performers being arrested, or hear Lord Coe saying that people wearing Pepsi T-shirts will be thrown out of events (lest it upset Coca-Cola)
Lord Coe: “You probably wouldn’t be walking in with a Pepsi T-shirt because Coca-Cola are our sponsors and they have put millions of pounds into this project but also millions of pounds into grassroots sport [...] It is important to protect those sponsors.”
…Coe is in fact mistaken (it’s only those who work or volunteer for the Olympics who will be ordered to wear certain clothing…) – but it is genuinely disturbing that the chair of the organising committee not only believes it to be true, but clearly thinks it wholly acceptable.
The behaviour of the Olympic Torch escorts is also quite frightening – the zeal with which they defend the Torch and aggressively beat to the ground any who get too close is particularly harrowing when you are aware that this ‘Olympic’ tradition was actually founded by the Nazi Party for the 1936 Games – as part of their Aryan propaganda.
On the other hand, we do still have the official logo that looks a bit like Lisa Simpson giving head to a tramp. So it’s not all bad news…