If you live in the UK it will have been quite hard not to notice that yesterday marked the 100 days to go point for the London Olympics.
For me, it marked the 96 days to go point for my visit to a friend in America who I haven’t seen for three years, which is much more exciting. The Olympic countdowns are very handy, because I know that I just have to subtract four for my own personal countdown.
But this post isn’t an excited treatise on my summer plans, but rather a reflection on the interesting issues raised by spending a summer in America and thereby avoiding a summer where Britain in general and London in particular will be attempting to emulate some of the less enjoyable aspects of US life.
A quick glance over the Safety and security page of the Olympic website is a good start. Ticket-holders are advised to avoid bringing bags if at all possible, and if they must bring something then “in most cases you can bring one soft-sided bag”, which will of course be searched on entry.
Now one might think that the purpose of these bag searches is to ensure the safety and security of the spectators and competitors. But it isn’t.
It’s to ensure that their many sponsors get the best possible run at making a whacking great profit.
A glance down the terms and conditions of the tickets makes for very interesting reading. In particular I was drawn to the paragraph detailing the items which cannot be taken into an Olympic venue. There are the obvious ones, like no illegal drugs or dangerous objects, or lasers and noisy things (thank goodness, that means no vuvuzelas). And then there are the ones which beg questions:
- food (save for baby food)
- alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (save for baby milk and other valid medical reasons)
- liquids in containers of greater than 100ml in size so you better start looking for your travel-sized suncream
- objects bearing trademarks or other kinds of promotional signs or messages (such as hats, T-shirts, bags, etc)
- large quantities of coins
- bottles or containers made of glass or other material so basically, no liquids at all, unless you have a container made of no material
- refrigerators I just found this one amusing
Now, it isn’t that there are concerns about the massive safety hazard caused by people taking food to a sprint race. I know this because one of the sponsors of the Olympic games is… McDonalds. Of course. That is who I would choose to sponsor a sporting event which has as part of its Food Vision “Providing healthy and nutritious options for everyone”.
However, if you want to buy your McMeal, you had better be a Visa card holder because the outlets at the venues won’t accept any other type of payment except cash – and remember you can’t take in “large quantities of coins” such as one might need to purchase overpriced junk food. Unsurprisingly, Visa is an Olympic sponsor.
There will also be outlets selling beverages including alcohol, so they aren’t worried about people becoming drunk and rowdy. They’re just worried about them becoming drunk and rowdy on alcohol not purchased from Heineken UK, another Olympic sponsor.
It isn’t all bad, because the venues will be providing free water. It hasn’t been decided exactly how that will be done, but at least it’s something. Mind you, Thames Water is also a sponsor – but since they’re the main provider of tap water in London that is not very surprising.
The figures for security staff are nothing short of alarming. The original estimate was that 10,000 people would be needed. In January that rose to 23,700 – of which 13,500 are likely to be from the Armed Forces. It’s understandable, of course – you need a lot of manpower to confiscate everyone’s sandwiches and make sure they aren’t carrying in any dangerous water bottles.
Obviously all this has an impact on the cost. The total cost that the organisers are admitting to will be £9.3 billion. I’ve seen the figure of £11 billion bandied about as well. I don’t know anything about these things – I can’t even begin to picture how much money that is – but even I can tell that something drastic must have happened since the original estimated budget of £2.4 billion.
Of course the government are arguing that it will benefit the economy overall, but I’m not convinced. It will certainly benefit the Olympic sponsors, but I’m willing to bet that it won’t benefit the small businesses who have been forbidden from advertising near the venues in case they sneakily “ambush” the revenue from the official sponsors.
All of this makes me very sad, and very pleased to be out of the country while all of the hoopla is going on. I’m travelling out with my choir, who will be flying back into London on July 24th – three days before the opening ceremony. Judging by the signs which are already up around the London Underground network, advising people to find a different form of transport for the Olympic period, I predict that they will be flying back into pandemonium.
I had originally thought that I might like to attend some of the Olympic events. By the time the ticket ballot came around I had realised quite what I would be letting myself in for, and also how much money I could be placing on the line in an attempt to get a ticket, so I didn’t bother, but it would have been nice to have seen Hannah Cockroft competing in the Paralympics, for instance – we were friends as children. I was even mildly pleased when we won the hosting bid, in a vaguely patriotic way, but in the years since then I have become increasingly curmudgeonly and these days I would far rather see £9.3 billion poured into the NHS, the education system, the transport network… Even setting fire to it would at least provide a source of fuel – perhaps you can run cars on burning bank notes?
So I’m glad to be going to America, with all its airport patdowns and jumpiness about socialism, processed sugar and abortion. I expect America to be a bit odd and obsessed with security and capitalism – it’s part of the appeal, that other-worldly “I can’t believe how weird it is here!” feeling. I’m not so sure I find it endearing back home.