OLYMPICS 2012: RUNNING RINGS AROUND LONDON?

Suddenly it’s everywhere: The publicity for the event described by Lord Coe, Chairman of the LOCOG (London Organizing Committee of the Olympic & Paralympic Games) as “The greatest show on earth”. Special supplements with the competition schedules, venues and prices have been published by most UKnational newspapers. The Olympic logo – comprising blue, yellow, black, green and red aluminium rings, weighing 5,070 pounds, 66 feet wide and 30 feet tall – has been suspended from the ceiling of St Pancras International Station. Several more will be installed at the capital’s main tourist locations, such as TowerBridge and the London Eye. This week – on March 15th, 500 days before the opening of the Olympics (27 July to 12 August) ands 533 days before the Paralympics (29 August to 9 September) – 6.6 million of “the greatest tickets on the planet” (Lord Coe) will go on sale to the general public. Controversy, however, has swirled around the LOCOG almost from the moment when London beat Paris by 54 votes to 50 at the IOC (International Olympic Committee) meeting in Singapore (July 2005) for the right to host the 2012 Games. Even the details of how to purchase access to the “645 sessions at 34 venues” has, (reports The Guardian) led to “wide-spread head-scratching”. Both the London Evening Standard and BBC London News have attempted to provide some clarification to a somewhat confusing system. Applicants, they advise, should only request as many tickets as they can afford, as there will be no refund arrangements and there will be “no guarantee they will be able to sell them on” if they change their minds for any reason. Although they can “register their interest” at any time between March 15th and April 26, they won’t be told whether they have been successful in obtaining the tickets they wanted for another two months (at the latest by 24th June).

The Guardian has characterised some of the prices as “eye watering: Seats cost up to £2,012 for the opening ceremony, £725 for the session that includes the 100m final and £450 to watch beach volleyball”. They also pointed out that 90% of the tickets are £100 or less and start at £20 in every sport.  LOCOG’s announcement that it will only accept Visa payment cards (along with cash and cheques) “in recognition of Visa’s support (as a sponsor) of the Games” has been denounced as “outrageous” by the consumer organization “Which”, as this means that British Olympic fans “will not be able to purchase their tickets or buy anything (such as food or drink) at the Olympics  with Mastercard, American Express or by any other method except Visa or cash. Furthermore, “a bizarre situation” has arisen whereby these restrictions apply only toUKcardholders. Anyone outside the country can use other credit or debit cards to acquire tickets. Equally contentious has been the allocation of the remaining 2.2 million tickets which won’t be available to the public. According to the London Evening Standard, the best seats will be “snapped up by the politicians”, including Government Ministers and the leaders of London’s 33 boroughs – who will portray the arrangement as being “mainly to invite business contacts and diplomatic allies” but in practice will “enjoy an Olympics bonanza at the expense of the taxpayer”. Just over a million tickets will be distributed to the 204 competing nations and the other 12 % divided among “sponsors, broadcasters and package specialists”.

Meanwhile, a National Audit Office (NAO) survey issued in February concluded that the final cost of the Games to the taxpayer is  “inherently uncertain”. The figure quoted by the Labour Government’s Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, in November 2006 was £3.3bn. In February 2011, BBC News estimated that this had trebled to £9.3billion, derived from public sector funding (including finance from central Government),Londonauthorities and the National Lottery. Some commentators believe that the eventual bill could be as much as £12 billion and that expenditure of this magnitude can only be justified if it leads to the promised regeneration of deprived areas ofEast London. Indeed, Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of the London Borough of Newham, has declared that, without a meaningful legacy, the Games will be nothing but “a vanity parade” – and that this would be a disaster in view of “the amount of public money already ploughed into staging the Games”.  The 2012 Olympic logo has itself also attracted considerable scepticism since it was unveiled in  June 2007. The “design guru” Stephen Bayley criticised it as “a puerile mess, an artistic flop” and the £400,000 cost as “a commercial scandal”. He declared there were 5,000 talented designers who could have done a better job for £10,000. Some people have complained that it resembles a swastika. The Iranians have complained to the IOC that the logo spells “Zion” and that unless it is changed, they will withdraw from the Olympics. Prime Minister David Cameron’s response has been that they “won’t be missed”. The two one-eyed Olympic 2012 mascots – called Wenlock and Mandeville – have likewise been derided as “ weird and creepy-looking”.

Other, more serious disputes and tensions have emerged in recent weeks. Tower Hamlets Borough Council is furious with LOCOG that the 26.2 mile Marathon race will apparently not now be routed through theEast End, because the television coverage requires “ a more attractive backdrop”.  The British Olympic Association (BOA) – which has revealed it may not have enough funds to pay for the 550 Team GB athletes and 450 officials who will represent the country  – is taking LOCOG to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to secure a larger share of the profits from the Games. Many of the British athletes will not participate in the “glitzy opening ceremony” but will stay in their training camps inPortugalandFranceuntil two days before their respective events. An article in the December edition of “The Spectator” magazine was scathing about the IOC’s “ambush marketing” paranoia (Companies who are not Olympic sponsors but attempt to give the impression that there is a connection between themselves and the Games). Billboard advertisements, posters, flyers and “projected, moving and aerial advertising” will be banned or covered within a few hundred metres of the Olympic stadia and cycling & marathon routes. The Spectator also clearly disapproves of other IOC stipulations, such as:  At every ceremony, the Olympic flag must be more prominent than theUK’s “Union Jack”; The 1,800 “IOC elite” must be provided (free of charge) with luxury hotel accommodation and traffic-free lanes on roads connecting the Olympic sites. Most galling of all: Queen Elizabeth II will be required to lay on a royal reception for the “IOC Grandees”, even if she doesn’t feel like doing so. She doesn’t have any choice. It’s all in the contract.

COLIN GORDON

www.colindgordon.co.uk

Filed under: Sports | Posted on March 15th, 2011 by Colin D Gordon

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