Monday, 7 May 2012

The Olympics - don't believe the hype

Unless you have been living in a cave on the moon for the past seven years you will most likely be aware that this summer, London will play host to the Olympic and Paralympic games. 
In 2005, it was announced that London had beat Paris and would host the games in 2012.

As we are drawing ever and ever closer to the opening ceremony, Olympic fever is apparently upon us, or if it isn't, it should be. I have personally found it incredibly difficult to become encompassed by the spirit, legacy or just general 'atmosphere of excitement' surrounding the Olympics, put simply, I just could not care less. This may prove controversial and I may appear to be an unpatriotic spoilsport but before you think that, just hear me out.

First of all, the cost, as you may well of noticed, the UK as a country is pretty skint at the moment and the recent announcement that we are now in a double dip recession is a sign that despite tough and hard hitting austerity measures, things aren't really picking up. The original budget for the games was estimated to be £2.4bn but by 2007, a mere two years later, this had more than quadrupled to over £9.3bn and this is just what the Government have stated it will cost, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have placed the figure higher at £11bn. The security budget has also been a major concern and was highlighted in a PAC report in March. The original budget for security provision has also almost doubled from £282m to £553m, a worrying sign of serious underestimations in the budgeting. This all comes during claims by the organisers and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that the games are under-budget. Doesn't appear that way to me. 

Secondly, and in my opinion, the most concerning and unpleasant element of the games is the massive influence and dominance of advertising from some pretty unfavourable companies. Whilst I am fully aware that an event like this will always require sponsorship from commercial companies to succeed, the particular companies in question either appear to advertise products completely in opposition to the encouragement of sport and wellbeing, Coca-Cola and McDonalds I'm looking in your direction or have some very questionable morals. Take Dow chemicals, who will provide a fabric wrap for the stadium, they were widely believed to be responsible for the one of the worst industrial disasters of all time and despite protests from those in Bhopal, they have still been have been given approval from the PM, to provide sponsorship. The sponsorship from McDonalds, Cadbury and Coca-Cola also seems amusingly ironic for an event which is apparently meant to inspire us all to get involved in sports and this sponsorship has been criticised by UK doctors. There are also reports that those attending the events will only be able to eat and drink certain foods that are official Olympic brands and the largest McDonalds franchise in the UK will also be part of the Olympic village, the food of choice I'm sure for all elite athletes. It strikes me as incredibly galling and rather sad that the entire 'legacy' of the event is being undermined by the main sponsors, the fact that the Olympics also has an official beer raises concerns not only about obesity being promoted through Olympic sponsors but alcoholism and binge drinking too. The Independent put it better than I ever could myself, describing the games as an '£11bn tax payer funded advertising campaign for some of the worst companies'. Hear Hear.

Thirdly, as someone who will be living in London during the games, I am filled with apprehension that the creaking tube and bus system will not be able to cope and travelling around will be even worse than it is now. Anyone who has been on the tube in summer, at rush hour, will be familiar with crowded, sweaty and stuffy trains and a journey where you spend the entire duration with an overweight businessman's armpit in your face and have to barge past a crowd of tourists to squeeze through the door at your stop. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of tourists for the games might just exacerbate this a bit. In the past month or so, bossy but surprisingly nicely illustrated adverts have popped up advising Londoners to walk to work and set off at a different time and announcements are already being made warning Londonders from travelling on certain roads and trains. This angers me even more. I have lived in London for the past 8 months contributing 20 quid a week for the privilege of travelling on an overcrowded tube yet during the games I am being encouraged to feel under obligation to change my shifts and walk to work and this should not bother me because the spirit of the games? Hmm I think not. The housing charity Shelter has also commented that landlords have been raising rents for the duration of the games meaning tenants have had to move out and I have also heard stories of people being forced to 

So, in conclusion, I can imagine most people who read this will think, what a grumpy spoilsport or that I am trying to jeopardise athlete's chances to represent their country, this is not the case at all, I have a lot of admiration for athletes who work very hard and I enjoyed watching the 2008 Olympics, my qualms are with the saturation of advertising from some pretty nasty companies, the ballooning costs and dramatic underestimations and the undoubtedly negative impact this will have upon London's already overstretched transport system and London residents this Summer.

A toast to the Olympics? Well so long as you're drinking a Coke or Maccy D's milkshake, feel free, but I certainly won't be joining you. 

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