I’ve reached the point where I lose respect for anyone I meet, especially Londoners, who are excited about the Olympics. My mother disappointed me a week ago when she said that watching the games on TV will form part of her plans for the summer. I just about forgive her… for one she’s my mother, for two she came from a generation when the last London Olympics turned a few thousand pounds profit for the taxpayer. I really hope the image of the Olympics is going to change for coming generations… if it doesn’t… it means people are becoming less intelligent.
I hate the Olympics. It gets easier to deal with after you’ve admitted as much to yourself. Sometimes I worry that I’m cynical about things… too negative perhaps… with the Olympics I don’t have this problem. I’d say I could tell you everything that’s wrong with the Olympics, but I know I can’t… it’s endless… the horrors will be being unearthed years after the event has finished, buried in filing cabinets and hard drives, a trail of correspondences and documents signed-off by the pathological bureaucrats and brand managers who have excelled at turning a celebration of human endeavour and international harmony into a dingy, little pissing contest of money and propaganda. At a talk last month I learned that the Wellcome Trust had once bid to develop the Olympic site as a science and research complex for after the games, losing out unsurprisingly to Qatari oil money. I’ve accepted that I’ll continue finding these disappointing pieces of information. One of the house boats yet to be moved from the river beside the stadium says it most succinctly, painted on the walls of their home, “Fuck the Olympics”. I’ve passed that boat time and time again over the last year, soon it will be moved on, sent upstream to make way for more profitable moorings.
I know I’m not going to convince anyone with these anecdotes, but when you’ve spent so long hating the Olympics for so many new reasons it’s really hard to know where to begin. There is all the obvious stuff; the omnipotent, Orwellian sponsorship of ‘official treats’ by Cadbury’s, there’s no use stressing that Cadbury’s have more in common with childhood obesity than sport, that just makes you sound like a nag. This week I was happy to see some headlines on the prohibition of unofficial, non-McDonald’s chips in Olympics catering. The controversy was absurd enough to show the wider world that LOCOG really are insane, and again, more effective than questioning the connection between fast food and athleticism.
Of course there’s also the security presence, with more UK security forces on duty in London than Afghanistan this summer. There are the helicopter gunships that fly ever more frequently over east London, there is the £60,000 per competitor cost to the UK taxpayer for the security contract alone, there are the missiles on tower blocks, there is the electrified, razor wire fence, and there is the fact that the contract went to G4S, a group responsible for the deaths of aborigines they have transported to court hearings in Australia, and the deaths of Angolans they were responsible for deporting from the UK. If this is how LOCOG celebrate international community they should really try their hand at running a war sometime after the games are over.
To be honest, criticising the Olympics feels a bit like shovelling shit out of the Augean stables. They were a fundamental reason in a decision to leave London for the summer, and the more you think about everything that’s wrong with them the more wearying you become. The Olympics will leave its detractors punch drunk and then prod them down onto the deck. The simple truth is that they’re… just… plain… mean. The prohibition of ambulances from Olympic traffic lanes, the allotments that were bulldozed to make way for the site, the children and teachers shifted from their classrooms so that Olympic staff can prepare facilities for competitors, the Leyton marsh that has been filled with concrete to build a temporary basketball court when three others already existed in the area.
Best of all, and good for a finale, was LOCOG’s official unofficial Olympics programme, a series of inspiring, grassroots gestures from the British public to welcome the games. A group of knitters and crocheters in the Midlands took up the task of making cushions for the athlete’s village, a genuine, handmade souvenir from the people of Britain that the visiting world could take home with them. As with anything potentially negative about the games, details are thin on the ground, but with thousands of cushions knitted and ready to be hugged, sat on or taken home, an official sponsor complained about the presence of these clandestine cushions encroaching on the exclusive deals that have been agreed. From that point on there was only one likely outcome… your cushions will not be required, not in in this summer like no other.
Julian is currently cycling from London to Istanbul for the summer. Follow him on Twitter here
*Image via Random Blowe