Limit the damage - dump the Olympics
London's only paper, the Evening Standard, recently bought by the ex-KGB Russian billionaire, Alexander Lebedev, has had the prescience to send a reporter to survey the aftermath of the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The journalist found stagnant water and garbage in the diving pool, weeds growing through the walkways and dog mess in the site of the Olympic Village. That is the legacy left to Athens by their $15bn Olympics.
The British government (now in the early stages of its death-throes) is setting up a company "to deal with the venues and surrounding area after the 2012 games," reports the Evening Standard. "It will be in charge of creating thousands of homes and jobs, sporting, education and cultural facilities, as well as an urban park." Yeah, and the skies will teem with squadrons of wingèd swine.
We all know that the 2012 Olympics will be a disaster for all of us - for those who take part, for those who watch the games, and most especially, for those of us who will pay for them. Britain's standing in the world will reach its nadir, as TV viewers in every country witness the under-funded, unimaginative, farcical shambles that the games will be. And then we'll be left with... what? A bunch of unused, derelict buildings in a depressed part of London.
Everything about this stinks, and has done since London won the bid to host an Olympics it could never afford. There will be no benefits to the kids of Britain, who now have fewer and fewer sports facilities at school, as playing fields have been sold off to speculators and developers. What the kids need are swimming pools and football pitches, not (as David Sexton pointed out in the Evening Standard ) a velodrome costing £105m, and a main stadium whose cost has now risen by another £43m to £547m. Sexton charges that the entire bid was "just a con-trick, as [former London mayor] Ken Livingstone admitted last year."
By the time the bid was actually made in 2005, the first estimate of £2.4bn to hold the games was up to £4.1bn; then in early 2007, the Labour minister in charge, the preposterous Tessa Jowell, said the sum was £9.345bn, and the people responsible for running the games still maintain that that's the correct number. But one guy who ought to know, Jack Lemley, who was formerly chairman of the "Olympic Delivery Authority," confessed that he had been working with a figure of £12bn and that the truth might well be £20bn.
What are the reasons for cutting our losses now and giving the Olympics back to one of the other bidders - if they think they can afford them? So far as I am concerned, the first reason is the destruction of the nation's budget for the arts. The dirty little secret that no one will mention is that money for the arts is already being siphoned off for some miserable, inchoate project called "the cultural Olympics"; and I'll be surprised if any of the major cultural institutions from the British Museum to Tate Modern or the National Theatre or the Royal Opera survives to 2012 without having their grants slashed.
Another reason is that no one really believes we will end up with any "legacy" of useful buildings, or with any real improvements to London's infrastructure. We'll end up with disused stadia and dog mess, just like Athens.
Even if we manage to stage the games, it will have to be done in such a mean, cheese-paring way, that spectators and TV viewers will simply conclude that Britain is on its way to becoming a third-world country, with nothing at all Great about it. It's absurd to undertake what is, after all, nothing more than a exercise in international Public Relations, at a time when the entire world is in recession. Actually, we couldn't afford it before interest rates were cut to 1.5%, and we certainly can't afford it now. If any of this money were being used to fund proper infrastructure projects, to improve London's dire transport system, or for sensible Keynesian projects such as building schools or hospitals, we might not mind so much that the Olympics will kill off the arts.
Obviously our political masters are Benthamites, who agree with the philistine utilitarian view that "Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry." But they're fools, who will all too soon be parted with our money.
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