OC 47: City Open to Olympics
The Games have arrived
It is not possible to live in London and ignore the Olympic Games 2012. Even less not to have an opinion about them and what they do to London as a place to live, work and play. As usual, officialdom claims that it is either too early or too late and never the right time to assess what this influx of athletes and all the paraphernalia around them has on London and Londoners and how much is open to them.
Traffic congestion and blunders with flags have been covered widely by the media, and sites like <http://www.gamesmonitor.co.uk> are witnessing displacements and other adverse effects.
I will confine my remarks to empty seats, a measure of how open these games are to all, and the invasion of the skies, a covert legacy of the ‘fear industry’.
Not known as the most sport driven nation, despite having invented games from cricket to table tennis, Britain - or rather its various bodies marketing the Olympic games - told us to rejoice, participate, not to spoil the fun and put up with what is considered normal disruption of such a world event which Londoners should feel blessed to host.
Real time excitement
Like most spectators who were lucky enough to experience some performances live (me care of a generous friend), I was taken by the atmosphere of expectation and jubilation. No digital process can reproduce that. Three Italian women scooped up all three medals for foil fencing.
The spectacle took place in a hall with some 8000 seats, many of them far away from the action, while many among the best seats were left empty for the proverbial potential arrival of the queen of Sheba.
Large patches of empty seats were visible on the TV images at all the venues at all times. Predictably, Locog (the private local organising company which kept 12% of the tickets) fobbed this off explaining that the ‘Olympic family’ (which was attributed 5%) could not be everywhere at all times. Naturally, the VVIPs (who were given 8% of the tickets) were blameless, as they claim to have distributed their tickets generously down the hierarchy of their organisations. It would be great to have some real figures about how many tickets had been distributed for free to which organisations with what justification; and how many have been resold at what prices when Locog recommended £5 for adults and £1 for children who had already paid to visit the Olympic park.
Initially, scarcity was the name of the game. I went through the motions of applying for tickets during the first auction only to find out how the system was treating Londoners. Forced to contribute threefold through taxes to the Olympic Games and to endure three months of disruption, I was not keen on having the games in my city. Insult was added to injury when I was offered to purchase two very expensive tickets for trials in Birmingham. So no look-in to the Olympic park arenas ... Feedback from a last minute effort to sell some of the recuperated empty seats in response to public outcry showed that the asking prices for places which would have been empty otherwise were well beyond a family budget. So much for the Olympic spirit of generosity and fairness. Some soldiers and police produced bums on seats but their uniforms transpired last minute manoeuvres.
Boosting the fear industry
Under the radar, may be literally, is the inflation of helicopters whizzing above London with little justification. Informal joy rides have been arranged for some time, and the media consider it indispensable to show bird’s eye views of everything from riots to popular events. Intrusion under the guise of security has become beyond tolerance. Day and night, search lights included, noisy helicopters are hovering over houses and disturbing people’s sleep with impunity. What used to be a no fly zone for safety reasons has become the playground of those who are escaping terrestrian traffic congestion. VIPs are flying from their yachts, penthouses and mansions to Olympic venues. Even the queen is shuttled by helicopter from the Olympic stadium down a few hundred meters to the aquatic centre.
The one space which was free, the air above us, is now colonised by the privileged few to the detriment of the many on the ground and in their beds, intruding their privacy and personal space. This is perhaps the most disturbing legacy of these games watched by the privileged and the wealthy but paid for by all. The 204 nations can leave and return to their quiet spaces while Londoners will be stranded with invasive noise and pollution coming from the last resort which was open and free to all. Time may have come to apply the ‘polluter pays principle’ in the real world and include a proper negative value for nuisance in the GDP packet. This would shed a completely new perspective on air travel. Little chance of that happening though, considering who would be most likely to be taxed.