London 2012 – left cold from a corporate dream

5 Aug

What has the Olympics done for us? 

It is a widely accepted fact that no city engages in a bid to host the Olympics for the economic prospects which is quite possibly why there was an extremely mixed reaction to London’s accepted bid to host the Olympics in July 2005. The public began to ask questions ranging from ‘what facilities do we have?’ to’ where is the money going to come from?’ Our pockets, was the assumption.

Aside from economic growth, London has essentially gone for glory – an attempt to win a gold medal for the city itself. It has become less about the support of young athletes and more about credit and praise – we only have to look at the opening ceremony to answer that hypothesis.

7 years ago London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games was accepted after a 12 year effort by the British Olympic Association. It became the only city in the world granted the ability to host the games for a third time, (1908 & 1948)…and this was thought a good thing?

Since the moment London bid for the 2012 games in 2003 our truly ‘Great’ Britain has spent in abundance of 9 billion pounds on rejuvenating Stratford – home to the Olympic Park and upgrading the transport links in and around London. This is 7 billion over the anticipated 2 billion pounds quoted in their original bid. The argument was, we would recover such expenditure from tourism resulting from overseas visitors, the sale of Olympic tickets and of course the pleasant satisfaction of seeing our precious (but extremely expensive) facilities being utilised during the Olympic Games this year. There was the also the opportunity of creating jobs, which as the writer of this article, to me, is a complete and utter joke as the majority of the heavily overworked Olympic Park staff (those in the purple t-shirts) and the ‘Last Mile’ staff are mostly out of work volunteers. They’re not allowed to give interviews or even comment on their position, a little dubious don’t we think?

Of course we all know from the variety of recent  reports of London as a ‘Ghost town’ that many residents of London have sought to book the two weeks of the 27July to 12 August 2012 as holiday, either that or opted to work from home. This has created a huge space for movement on public transport during peak hours I must say (so hats off to the Olympic Association there!) However, the slump can also be witnessed within the tourism industry.

 The British media can be said to have done us no favours here with reports leading up to the Olympics littered with stories of teething problems in the ‘updated’ transport facilities after the incorporation of ‘games only traffic’ lanes.  With this in mind it appears tourists have chosen other European cities for their breaks away this year. Central London is eerily sparse with hardly any of the infamous background noise and a walk along Westminster left me a little cold as I’d be used to the body heat of thousands of passing tourists. The welcomed aspect to this was that any tourists that were present were a lot more contented than usual, waiting for me while I stopped to take a photograph – how odd! A suggestion would be, that if you’re planning to travel to London for a break, now would be the time. That’s one pro.

The proposed economic rebate coming from tourism however leaves a lot to be imagined. One newsagent owner based at a Victoria Line station said ‘the government has anticipated a huge tourism rise but I reckon this has scared a lot of people off. I’m experiencing dipping profits and I’m down about £200 each day in comparison to the week leading up to the Olympics. Where’s the benefit for me?’

A spokesperson for the Tower of London even admitted that their visitor figures are down 56% on last year putting this down to visitors planning their visit ‘either side of this busy period for London.’ Busy period? How ironic!

Perhaps this is down to the corporate pool of advertisements flooding the Olympic Park.  Pop down to Stratford and on every road, every street corner, every walkway you will spot a city drowning in commercialism. Even look up to the sky and you will find a billboard tall enough.  These do not appear to be games for the people to be rewarded but games for the already wealthy to profit.

At a time of global recession, we should be supporting local businesses more than anything else, particularly as these are the ones who have reluctantly contributed to the rejuvenation of their city for this Olympics.

Understandably the Olympics have depended upon its partners and supporters such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Samsung, Visa, Adidas, Cadbury and Lloyds TSB to name but a few, for its advertisement campaigns and funding. Look further into these corporations and discover a world of scandal and disproportion.

A colleague of mine had a daughter who worked for Cadbury and happened to win ‘corporate VIP tickets’ to the Olympics. This package included first class flights from Nottingham East Midlands Airport to Heathrow (what about our carbon footprint? Joke indeed!), the best seats in the house for the closing ceremony, some athletics events, two events of their choice and of course a 5* luxury hotel in the heart of London with an on-call chauffeur service. Sounds lovely don’t we think? Having looked into this package further I later stumbled upon a figure of £50,000 for these tickets on a corporate site. Many have wondered why there were empty seats; many have wondered where some of this magnificent budget has gone. The answer lies in this corporate package. In two months time it will be interesting to see what profits the British government have made.  

 McDonald’s being the hugest food benefactor in the Olympic Park doesn’t leave much to imagination with food and with none of the other catering vendors appearing to be allowed to sell ‘fries’ it’s a little laughable don’t we think? Mexican’s were complaining about a Mexican stand outside the basketball arena, even they tasted the commercialism as they tucked into an American created box of tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa. If there were some good old sporting grub around, there would be no complaints surely, especially if we’d be supporting the locals? It appears London 2012 organisers have lost their way a little, giving into those with the money rather than spotting an opportunity to impart a passion for the Great British culture onto visitors from around the world (even if there doesn’t appear to be many of them.)

The ‘Games only traffic’ lanes did not appear to be posing as many problems as first thought during a visit to London this week, that was until the unprecedented death of Daniel Harris, near the Olympic park. A cyclist killed after being hit by a ‘Games’ vehicle carrying a team of journalists. Although it is not believed that the accident was caused by the imposition of the ‘Games only traffic’ lanes, when visiting the scene two days following the incident, numerous cyclists happened to pass comment on the absence of lane space for cyclists since the imposition of the ‘Games only traffic’ lanes. There are no clear road markings at the scene for any cyclist and at a time when London 2012 is understood to be backing sport and encouraging it to be undertaken, surely more road markings and signage for cyclists should be made available and the consideration of road space have been considered, especially given that many commuters do opt to cycle to and from work. Once again, organisers lost their way a little. Perhaps if councils had spotted this sooner rather than focusing their investments upon the floral gardens decorating London’s streets some of these accidents could have been avoided. 

Now we come to our athletes. Is it just me who has recognised a noticeable change in attitude from our Olympians? Yesterday we saw Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter react badly as they managed to scoop an Olympic silver medal missing out narrowly to the Danes who took Gold. They’re reaction suggested a feeling of worthlessness to their Great British followers and apology after apology ensued as they broke into tears. A similar aftermath occurred today when Andrew Simpson and Iain Percy were pipped to Gold in the sailing star event by the Swedish. Percy’s comments went from bad to worse finally stating ‘it is pretty gutting for sure.’ – Gutting? How on earth can winning an Olympic silver medal be gutting? It appears competing to a home crowd has left Team GB’s competitors a little resentful of anything other than Gold. 

While there has been a surge of pressure from the media and the Great British audience toward our athletes to win gold, hearing our competitors on the verge of collapse or despair upon receiving a silver medal is a little disconcerting. Of course we want our athletes to contend the Chinese for Gold medals in the medal table but in the grand scheme of things third place is a vast improvement on last year!  Hearing a BBC commentator during the celebrations of the tennis bronze medal winner, Del Potro say ‘all this for a bronze medal’ was testament to the above. A medal is a reward; we should not lose sight of this.

Finally we come to the Olympic Park, a miraculous development which following my visit this week, from the outside does not appear all that impressive. The Olympic Orbit, looks more like a rather dishevelled rollercoaster than an artistic tower and is on par with a crane imposing upon photographs of the London skyline I’m afraid. Disappointing in every sense was the experience for me. That was once my eyes made their way through the waves of commercialism.

The government told us upon the development of this park, that once the Olympic Games had ceased the public would have access to a wealth of pristine facilities featuring an aquatics centre, renewed parkland and a new mountain bike course. Of course we were led to believe this would all occur in close proximity to the close of the Olympics, however Andrew Altman, London Legacy Development Corporation Chief has since said that the park will not be fully open to the public until Easter 2014! This is no thanks to a further 490 million pound re-development (which has no doubt been vastly under-quoted). This delay will make the park ‘more public friendly’ according to Altman – a little worrying for those already inside the park I would think.  It is not surprising that this re-development will see 800 new terrace-like houses built upon the basketball arena site but perhaps what’s a little refreshing is the installation of new cycle paths which will improve public access.

 It is believed 200 million pounds of this regeneration has come from the government, aka, ‘us’ noble tax payers. The further 290 million pounds,  a government contribution apparently factored into the previous 9.3 billion games budget (so once again, us, noble tax payers will be compensating for this!)

Looking at all of the above, and following the first week of the (ok, seemingly successful) Olympic games, is it not perhaps time to ask what they have done for us, the ones who invested in such a motion?

 It is clear these games are a gift that just keep giving but to who?

  • Us, the victims of a financial recession?
  • The unemployed who need jobs?
  • Upcoming athletes who need fresh facilities?

OR;

  • the ones at the top who need to top-up their money already bursting from their pockets while us at the bottom simply watch as our money, our passion and our ‘legacy’ fizzles away to give way for a corporate dream.

Author: Nadya SJ

Source(s): The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, BBC Sports, Reuters, HRP London, TFL, London 2012 site.

Photographs: Authors own, BBC Sport, Reuters

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One Response to “London 2012 – left cold from a corporate dream”

  1. Aaron Lee August 9, 2012 at 10:05 AM #

    Lots of thoughts here, Nadya.

    The Olympics is a tough subject. We definitely felt the positive excitement of it over the last fours days, but the economic cost is something that we’ll still be feeling for years.

    Having been anticipating the Games for seven years and watched east London become a hive of activity, it’s all the more bizarre to actually see the Olympic happening. After all the fuss, it amazing to think it’s happening.

    It is disappointing though to see how commercialised the event is. I’ve spoken to local businesses in east and south London and you’re right about many of being overlooked.

    And when it comes to employment for local people and young people, I think we all expected far more from the Olympics. The government should be making jobs their top priority for the legacy of the Games.

    And as for turning the basketball court into houses, I’d rather the government invested in the sport, and many of the other undervalued Olympic sports. I only have a passing interest in Football, and I’d be pleased to see UK basketball getting more attention.

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