Friday, February 09, 2007
The Olympic con trick
This is an article I just wrote for Socialist Resistance:
At the recent meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Gilbert Felli, the Games’ executive director spoke of their concern that the bill for the London games in 2012 could be as much as £8 billion — compared with the original estimate of £2.375 billion. This overspend was totally predictable. According to the Auditor-General of New South Wales, the Sydney 2000 Games ended up costing over twice the pre-bid figures. In Athens, total costs was at least four times as high as the bid committee's initial budget.
The biggest financial impact is likely to fall on the voluntary sector which will lose an estmated £315 million as the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) will be "raided" to bail out the Olympics. This means, in practical terms, that the BLF won’t be able to fund any new programmes until 2013 and it would also have to make reductions of around £350 million in existing programmes. Sir Clive Booth, chair of the Big Lottery Fund argues this, "would have a chronic and damaging effect" on the fund’s mission to help charities and voluntary organisations. He added: "I don’t really see why all the wonderful good cause projects should have to subsidise the Olympics beyond what we have already done".
The alleged economic benefits of the Olymplics are also debatable, as the games further over heats the economy of London, to the detriment to the rest of Britain. For example, the Shetland Islands have just failed to find contractors interested in building a proposed £48 million High School project, depite funding being in place, because the major building companies are already fully committed to Olympic developments.
Ken Livingstone is saying this will be a Green Olympics, but these claims are rubbish. The Olympics will have a large and negative environmental impact. Most obviously, 50 mature trees will be felled in the Olympic zone located between Homerton Road and Stratford High Road, which incorporates the Bow Back Rivers. The river system of the Lower Lea which, according to the Environment Agency is very important in terms of its flood relief function will be destroyed with a network of concrete bridges and a large part of the waterways will be culverted, making the area much less sympathetic to wildlife. The Olympic stadium will rise to 50 metres and its shading effect on the surrounding land and waterways will be significant. A new 'park' is promised for after the Olympics, providing a greater amount of open space than now exists. This park will not be created until 2020 (8 years after the games), and meanwhile public amenity of the area will be lost. There are, as yet, no financial arrangements for the management of a new park, and no organisation has claimed they want to run it. By 2020, will anyone remember a park was promised?
But it is vitally important to also recognise that the ideology behind the Olympics is completely bankrupt, and of no benefit to working people. At its most blatant, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has admitted that £340 million will be channelled from the existing sports lottery distributors. So the Olympics will actually take money away from participative sport provision for ordinary people, and channel it towards elite professional athletes.
Already for the Beijing Olympics planned for 2008 UK Sport, the body that distributes funding under the World Class performance Programme is spending £57.5 million supporting just 320 elite competitors, plus a further £16 million to their sporting bodies. This Includes £600000 to support one professional weightlifter; £5.3 million for the equestrian team, £2 million for high diving, and over £1 million for the archery team.
The aim of UK Sport is to increase Britain’s Olympic medal tally. But note that the funding does not go towards sports where there is mass participation or even spectator interest. It is focussed onto activities where individuals can be groomed to produce maximum results. We will have the appalling spectacle of a flag waving extravaganza of national chauvinism, where the Queen and Prime Minister wrap themselves in the Union Jack; and we are encouraged to have a vicarious identification with elite athletes participating in sports that outside of the Olympic time none of us take any interest in, just because through accident they carry the same passport as us.
What is more, the training infrastructure and the development of sports science is much more advanced in the developed economies of the imperialist powers. So every four years the Olympics gives an opportunity for the great powers to ideologically demonstrate that their world dominance is underpinned by an implicit biological and racial superiority. This is one of the impetuses behind the prestige of holding the games – an orgy of conspicuous consumption that validates the host nation as a major power.