WE HATE : THE OLYMPIC GAMES

Although support for the 2012 London Games appears already to be declining in inverse proportion to the huge escalation of costs and the prospect of Lottery funds being diverted away from good causes, Londoners are commonly said to be “largely” supportive of the project. Well nobody has asked me. I have been implacably opposed to the whole enterprise from the outset. My latest rant is on behalf of all those who hold similar views.

You may say, “What has this to do with Innovations in Information?” My response is simply that some of the financial information provided in support of the bid appears to have been decidedly optimistic if not innovatory. According to thelondonpaper (6 March 2007), members of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee went so far as to accuse the organizers of the games of indulging in “Alice in Wonderland” budgeting. The cost of the project, as now officially revealed, is already more than treble the original prediction and is probably destined to go on rising; which seems to be the way of all such adventures. As Simon Jenkins put it in The Guardian (2 March 2007): “To build six temporary stadiums for 16 days of sport is the kind of gesture once confined to African dictators”.

A claim in mitigation is that the required developments will help the long-term regeneration of the areas in which they are placed. Well, perhaps, but surely another triumph of hope over experience. The evidence from other major cities that have staged the Games in recent times (not to mention the Dome) hardly supports the notion of an ongoing Elysium. In a letter to The Guardian (10 March 2007), Kevin Swaine pointed out that the Athens Olympics left the country with such a debt that every new home built in Greece now has a 19% tax added to help clear the enormous burden.

A more fundamental objection than money, however, is the nature of the modern Games: far removed from the historic Greek celebrations in honour of Zeus; even from the relatively modest Games held in London in 1948. For the whole bonanza has become largely a rite to nationalism. The Olympic logo may have interlocking rings, but the reality is that rather than being bound in a great spirit of unity the priority of the superpowers is to come top. Personal achievement in sport is primarily a contribution to national pride and supremacy.

The staging of the Games has also become overblown. Each successive host nation cannot be seen to put on a poorer show, so that the attendant presentation becomes more and more elaborate. As far as Britain is concerned this cannot be for the greater glory of our contestants, for if anything is reasonably predictable it is that we will finish among the also-rans of the medal table. The elation that greeted the success of our Olympic bid was, I believe, symptomatic of a fundamental malaise. The supporters of the project have fallen for the conceit, born in Britain’s colonial past and encouraged by Elgar’s sublime music, that ours is a land of hope and glory which God has made mighty. Why ‘God’ should favour one nation above another is unexplained, but the vainglorious hope is that he will make us “mightier yet”. Patriots have succumbed to an inflated sense of our national importance and our place in the world.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sporting arena. A few, admittedly stunning, successes have inflamed a climate of wholly unrealistic expectation. Pride has well and truly gone before a fall. In football, rugby and, most recently, cricket we have been brought crashing down to earth. Yet a whitewash in the Ashes has not restored humility. Rather we are urged to new ambition by looking forward to a renewed contest in 2009!

I do not wish to pour scorn on the achievements of our Olympians, some of which over the years have been truly heroic. I protest rather at the context in which the medals are won: the triumphalism attending elite success over the mass failure of the losers. In this respect the London Marathon is a far more inclusive model. Pride of place is given to elite competition, but without the pompous anthems and the flag-waving, and followed by a huge contingent of people who simply run for the joy of being part of a great event with the opportunity to raise lots of cash for good causes.

Finally, to return to the financial issues, there is the telling argument that the money devoted to the Games – our money – could be better spent; the Lottery will be raided when there are more deserving priorities. If it must be for sport, then let us strengthen local activities held for grassroots participation rather than national ascendancy. Derek Mapp, chair of Sport England, charged with getting two million more people active before the Olympics, is quoted in Guardian Sport (22 March 2007) as saying, “It is like I have to do it barefoot”. Sport England’s lottery income will be cut by £55.9 million in 2009, which will bring its contribution to the Olympic project to £395 million. And this against a total annual income of £265 million.

Arts funding is also threatened. Joan Bakewell, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts, is reported in London Lite (16 March 2007) as saying that Lottery funding had been a “golden egg” for the arts. “Today,” she added, “it’s starting to look a bit tarnished”.

“All victories breed hate,” wrote Baltasar Gracián in The Art of Worldly Wisdom. For my part, I simply hate the thirst for supremacy. I would like to see the billions about to be lavished on the 1912 Games used to enhance the Social Fund.