A date for your diary?

Running on empty?

Running rings Running rings
The Olympics, and ours not theirs, could turn out to be for whoever is Mayor of London (MoL) on the due date, 2012, a mixed blessing and we should not assume, automatically, that Boris will still be mayor. During the hustings for the election of MoL 2008 did anyone hear Boris, Brian or Sian say a word about the 2012 event? If the answer is no then this was not remarkable as it is a done deal and to speak out would have made the candidate look a bit like King Canute attempting to hold back the tide of the inevitable in a futile gesture.

No doubt Boris, Brian and perhaps Sian had their own thoughts about this upcoming opportunity-cum-banana-skin, especially the former. Boris often portrayed Ken as King Newt and by talking about the games could have given Ken the opportunity to reply in rhyming slang with the tag "King Canute"! For Ken the games have been a triumph, pure gold, he could be linked to the winning side as Mayor of the successful city. Then as the wily spender of public money he is, could watch the bills soar, being sure that they were to be picked up by others. Ken admitted it was so implying that the money rather than a few weeks of sport was his aim, see full article HERE and one can imagine that the Green Party candidate had her mind on a higher astral plane than the gory detail of the games cost over-runs and value, or not, for the taxpayer and Londoner; while for the LibDems it was dream on. Their results in London and across the UK have been portrayed by their Leader and supporters alike as indicating that they are on the verge of something good. But then they always are.

So, the Olympic Games, what's it all about?

Olympics 1936 Olympics 1936
Well first we must separate the ideal from the actual, the original from the repro. The 'original' games lasted for over a thousand years and followed the pattern of being held once in four years from 776 BC. The Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius was by inclination a 'moderniser' and in 393 AD abolished the games. By then however, yet another pattern had been set and what had started out as a simple event had grown to include many different forms of sport. The world then waited for one thousand five hundred years before the Greek government re-introduced the games in Athens, in 1896. In today's world this would be seen as a wise move due to the strong 'brand' image of the Olympic games but in 1896 we may assume it was all a bit more altruistic, there being no such thing as 'tourism' as we know it now, there was however the 'Grand Tour'. This was very much an upper class affair and seemed to be established by the early 1700s only to stop about the mid 1800s upon the arrival of the railways and later the mobile middle classes which offended the snooty folk. So perhaps the Greeks spotted a gap in the market after all. Mind you the Greeks were helped in their endeavour by the Frenchman Baron de Coubertin who, having thought about the defeat of the French armed forces in the Prussian war of 1871, concluded that the French forces lacked physical fitness. It is always said that the Baron wished to create links between nations via sport and not, with a fitter France, simply give her enemies a good thrashing next time. Let us accept this as so. But it tends to spoil the idea that the modern games is built on a love of sport alone; and note that following the re-introduction of the games in Athens, the next gathering in 1900 was in Paris. Only the very mean would say that this event held in a capital city at the turn of a century had potential for financial advantage.

So off we go with the 'modern' Olympic movement. As with the original games it was not long before expansion was the name of the game: the Winter Olympics arrived in 1924. And now expansion seemed inevitable, though I suppose the supporters of this would say it was 'innovative'. Non-sporty cynics sit back and wait for shopping and tiddlywinks to become Olympic sports.

No place for a flame No place for a flame
From the outset the sporting idealists have portrayed the games as 'politics free' implying that no untoward influence, save that of the love of sport, has played any part. The evidence suggests otherwise as the 1936 games fell into the lap of the Nazis. Germany had won the opportunity to stage the games before the Nazis came to power and they made the most of this opportunity with a clear message of Aryan superiority. What is also now clear is that they fully understood the 'media circus' for in 1936 radio was well established and was challenging the traditional might of newspapers. The Nazis alloted the games all the outside broadcasting equipment they could muster including translators. Not only did the main message, the Aryan aspect, reach the world audience but grateful journalists noticed the technical excellence of the Nazis and were impressed. Henceforth the sporting dimension of the games had a rival in the games themselves. It was not long before the hustling to become the host city, then the building of the venue, followed by the creation of a spectacular opening ceremony became the main purpose of it all. This went on for years and was not, to paraphrase Livingstone, "just a few weeks' sport". It was a vast employment programme run by professionals in direct contrast to the sporting side which is, in theory, the province of amateurs. And nobody seems to care about the wider implications not least the debt, the vast stadia and related paraphernalia, by definition best suited to a few weeks' sport and not much else.

It is all very well trying to play the legacy card but it did not work with the Dome, so why should it work now? This was the ploy attempted by Manchester in 2002; here the very fact they had all the stadia left over from the Commonwealth Games was seen as a compelling reason not to build again in London and to use Manchester. But of course this was not good enough, it was 'unfair' to London, some said. But was it fair to Londoners who would foot the bill? So the bid, the honour, came to London and the wrangling and building began on a scale some said was inspiring, others wasteful.

Then there is the aspect of bribery which happened with the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and is alleged to have happened before. There were mutterings in Paris, the city that lost 2012, about the background to the London bid but they were not too loud. It did involve the Blairs, amongst others, but if there are dodgy dossiers there has been no sign of them yet.

At the moment the Olympic Games is anything but politics free as the Chinese thugs escort the Olympic flame up Mount Everest. It is said that the weather is a problem for this trek with wind speeds at 140mph, why not take it up on a kite? It is all so farcical and grotesque and by the time it is 'our' turn in 2012 what hope is there?

Roger Bannister Roger Bannister
The athletes, lest we forget etc; there seems to be the idea that they can carry on with their training and remain totally isolated from all the other aspects of the Olympics as they are above it all, this is not so. It is 40 years since the Black Power salute incident at the Mexico games. It is one thing to expect politicians to avoid endorsing Chinese foreign policy by their actions and then, by contrast, to give the athletes a free ride on the moral dimension, this is not possible. From Mexico onwards the athletes have not been above it all and the victims of fate but fully in charge of the outcome of their own actions.

Now Boris is MoL the foot on the banana skin could be his, especially as he has asked Kate Hoey to help him with the 2012 preparations thus arousing fury in the hearts of the 2012 'insiders', a mix of: the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) the team who on behalf of London have managed the work so far, the Labour Party and the Newt Party. Reports suggest that Hoey is loathed by all three.The latter is the London faction of the Labour Party that Livingstone regarded as part of his fiefdom.

Writing in The Evening Standard after the MoL result was declared, Andrew Gilligan, the ultimate Boris watcher, pointed out that not just in terms of 2012 but in all matters the MoL depends on the Government for funds. Enter the sprawling effects of the credit crunch again quoting the Evening Standard -

Matthew Beard, Evening Standard 01.05.08 - The credit crunch looks certain to force two of the biggest venues in the Olympic Park over budget - it is understood that the Olympic Delivery Authority is preparing to raid its contingency fund to bankroll the media centre and the athletes' village for the Games.

As Tessa Jowell is the Olympics' Minister and ran Ken Livingstone's MoL campaign there could be some interesting meetings ahead in the 'glass egg', the GLA Headquarters, with Jowell and the ODA one side of a table and Boris and Kate Hoey the other. The best bit is the news that there are to be cuts in the £10 million hotel bill for 2012 - the original plan had envisaged using rooms costing up to £3000 per night. This should bring a crumb of comfort to all those poor Londoners that 'Red Ken' spent a lifetime helping.

So what next? Well Roger Bannister, he of the four minute mile, has indicated that big changes are needed for the Olympics, he is right, see full article HERE

Beware the banana skin Boris Beware the banana skin Boris
The 2012 games has from the start been promoted as 'a force for good'. This is no longer true. As already mentioned above, in 393 AD the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius abolished the games, even so the idea lived on for 1500 years. Few people can recall modern Olympic winners; the 'three weeks' sport' has been subsumed in the ever growing non-sporting issues and I've not even mentioned drug abuse. As the cost of the games spirals only upward while the Olympic ideal goes the other way even the logo looks trite. The five rings resembling a row of noughts to symbolise another cost over-run. Time has run out for the Olympics as it is, it must change, for as the Americans might say it is "running on empty".

Good luck Boris, be bold and mind the banana skin.