How Londoners Can Survive the Olympics

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 26, 2011 | Go to article overview

How Londoners Can Survive the Olympics


Byline: Simon Jenkins

AYEAR to go to the great event, and some things are clear. The Olympics, which I loved in theory and deplored as it morphed into an elitist, exclusive and stupefying, costly folly, are going to happen.

The inability of politicians to control [pounds sterling]4 billion soaring to [pounds sterling]9 billion on a fortnight's festival in east London has been alarming. Millions of pounds have been siphoned off into bonuses, sub-contracts and phoney consultancies. Nothing is value-audited. Charities and ordinary sports facilities have been starved and closed as the Lottery fund becomes ring-fenced.

But it will happen. The site will be ready. Britain does project management well. The layout, at least from the air, is majestically exciting. The "iconic" buildings will dazzle on the night, even if like all Olympics buildings they lie rotting thereafter. The closing ceremony, as the Greeks and Chinese showed, will be sensational and thus somehow "justify" the [pounds sterling]9 billion cost.

There have been other successes.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the publicity the tickets team have done the impossible. They have sold, indeed oversold, the Olympics to a host nation on the basis that not to have a ticket is unpatriotic and implies a social disease. Other cities have found this near impossible: Olympics are neither for hosts nor for tourists but for athletes' families, officials and the media. People simply do not want to pay to watch people hulk weights, throw ancient weapons or swim on their backs. Yet the row over tickets has been a marketing dream, with frenzied radio commentators and even the Mayor denied satisfaction. With luck, at least the main venues will be full, without the usual embarrassing rows of empty seats.

What the Olympics organisers need to do now is detoxify the Games' image as elitist, hard-edged and Fifa-corrupt, like a G-20 summit gone sour. They should slash the sickening tank of cash that is the Olympic Development Authority budget, brilliantly satirised in the recent television series, Twenty-Twenty. They should ban fat-cat "Olympic family guests" from freebies, notably the thousands of hangers-on from international sport's burgeoning mafia. Why British taxpayers should subsidise Sepp Blatter's Fifa mob is beyond me, and merely suggests that British sporting bodies are cut from the same cloth.

There is no defensible reason to cordon off a 60-mile network of inner London roads for "Zil lanes" for VIP limousines -- BMW gas-guzzlers inexcusably supplied by London taxpayers. London is not Stalin's Moscow. This month it was announced that parking bays and right turns will be suspended for a month "to benefit officials who might arrive early".

I can think of nothing more calculated to enrage Londoners and build hostility to the Olympics than this kowtowing to the overpaid men who now control international sport. It is rumoured that the VIPs demanded a guaranteed 15-minute journey time from their Park Lane hotels to Stratford. Transport for London has apparently agreed to an all-green phase for the Embankment for the duration of the Games. …

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