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A Tale of Olympic Proportions
In AD 67, Roman Emperor Nero was declared chariot champion, and awarded the gold medal. In spite of the fact that he fell out of his chariot and never even finished the race. This began a long chain of Olympic tales and myths, creating an illusion of the Olympics that is far fetched from reality. So what are the facts about the Olympics, and is East London the true winner, or have they fallen out the chariot?
This year is the fifth anniversary of the Olympic bid, which brought promises of regeneration and upturns in the five boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Waltham Forest and Newham. Chair Lord Sebastian Coe based his pitch for the Olympics on the promise of the lasting regeneration legacy the event would leave east London. It was proposed that these areas would experience higher employment, sporting participation, training opportunities and housing conditions. It was said that the sporting events would strengthen a deprived community. Yet how does such a huge event trickle down to the local level?
According to a study done by Coalter, Allison and Taylor on the role of sports in regenerating deprived urban areas, “there is little evidence about the effects of such sports events-led economic regeneration strategies…there is a lack of available data on the regenerative impact of sports investments on local communities”. In other words, major sporting events have no measurable impact on locals. Rather, huge projects strip funding away from locally managed, smaller projects. The National Lottery is contributing £2.2billion to the Olympics. Ironically, this has taken money from school sport funding, which has seen it’s budget cut by 28 percent, not to mention the Grants for the Arts donations which has taken a 29.6% slash. It should be noted that Prime Minister Cameron is reassessing the cuts on sports for school after a petition from Olympic and Paralympics athletes such as diver Tom Daley, swimmer Sascha Kindred and boxer James DeGale. National Lottery cuts directly affect smaller charities and local projects all around England, as they will find it near impossible to secure funding. Sir Clive Booth, chair of the Big Lottery Fund, commented on the diversion of good cause money: “I very much regret that it has been necessary to divert a further £425m of the Big Lottery fund’s good cause resources to support the 2012 Olympics infrastructure…” It is clear the government see regeneration as building large-scale projects as oppose to giving a helping hand to local communities.
If smaller projects and charities will be unable to pay their staff, at least the Olympic Delivery Authority has promised 11,000 new jobs, with a target of 10-15% of the workforce to be drawn from the five host boroughs. But surely this target sounds relatively small, considering the billions going in to the project and the labour that needs doing. Hackney MP Diane Abbot comments: “The number of people from the East End who have received jobs there remains low…it is a pitifully unambitious target. It will have no sustainability if local people see 85% to 90% of jobs going to outsiders”. The Olympic Delivery Authority scheme has put only eight Hackney residents into employment, yet about 108,000 people of workable age in the Olympic boroughs are unemployed. The largest space for employment is in construction, with a potential 30,000 jobs. However hiring is directly in the hands of the sub-contractor, who will simply use the cheapest labour, and not take the initiative to hire local people or give contracts to local suppliers. In fact, a mere 77 local businesses out of 600 companies supply to the Olympics. Tenon Forum, a group of entrepreneurial advisors have reported that just 10% of the nation’s entrepreneurs think the games will have a positive impact on their businesses, with 70% believing that they will lose out to big companies. 300 local businesses in Stratford were issued with compulsory purchase orders by the London Development Agency, and have now been vacated. These companies employed at least 5,000 staff. Yet these figures have not been subtracted from the calculation of job creations for the Olympics, and haven’t been taken into consideration by the ODA as losses for local employment. But you won’t have to worry about local unemployment if you are one of Boris Johnson’s ex-lovers, as you are guaranteed a job at the Olympic Park! So that should knock down the figure quite a bit.
The removal of local businesses does not only have a negative impact on local employment, but also affects the character of the area. East London is well known for it’s local shops, but they are all in quite a bit of barney rubble. The Olympics has contributed to mass gentrification of the area, with the £1b investment of Westfield stomping all over the smaller shops and engaging them in a price war of which they cannot compete – if they have even survived the compulsory purchase orders of the LDA. The development that will take place in Stratford will profoundly alter the character of the East End.
Improving the look of East London and filling the shops with the high-end brands in Westfield goes hand in hand with the promise of regenerating the East End. But at what cost? At the 1992 Barcelona, housing prices and rents increased 139 and 149 percent respectively, and the lack of affordable housing forced low-income earners out of the area. The regeneration of London will naturally see rent for tenants rise. Land and house prices will also rise after the former industrial land will be sold at development prices to cover – or attempt to profit from – the costs of the Olympics. Housing will become unaffordable for local people and offices for voluntary and community groups will be out of reach as the regeneration of the area attempts to attract more affluent residents as oppose to benefiting those already there. In a report on the Olympic Park Legacy, the London Assembly has warned that financial strain could put the Park under pressure to maximise revenue from housing. Extensive land sales to recover costs will make it much harder to deliver on promises of affordable housing. Yet the Olympic Park Legacy Committee are determined not to see a repeat of the unaffordable housing legacy that was left by the last large scale East End development, Canary Wharf. The Olympic Park land has just been transferred from the LDA to the OPLC, minus the lands £600m debt, which is a promising start.
If only time can truly measure the housing and job legacies of the Olympics, then surely we can be certain that the Olympics will bring droves of tourists to the capital, benefiting the local economy. Well, we can’t. And don’t call us Shirley. The national tourism agency VisitBritain has told the Telegraph that although an estimated 320,000 spectators will come from abroad to see the Olympic events, many will be put off by the higher prices of hotels and flights in peak summer season. Previous Olympic hosts have overestimated the number of tourists, most recently with Beijing anticipating over 400,000 and receiving almost half the amount. The tourists that will come will not be buying British made London 2012 merchandise, either, as about 90% of it is produced abroad – 67% in China, so perhaps Beijing has recouped it’s losses there. Olympic bosses stress the tourism benefits that will come from long-term exposure, but Britain’s capital is already one of the most visited cities in the world – so we have nothing to gain, but something to lose.
The toxic effect of the Olympics on tourists may translate to a far more serious a level for Londoners, as the entire site is built on radioactive wasteland. In 2008, the ODA told the Environment Agency that it had found 40 cubic metres of waste that showed radioactive readings up to three times higher than the levels at which waste is treated as exempt. Documents seen by the Guardian say waste contaminated by an isotope of thorium, a nuclear fuel which can cause cancer, was dumped on the site in east London in 1959. You most probably won’t be affected, but should you come across a three-eyed squirrel or a mutated flying mouse you know whom to blame. Sadly the contamination didn’t have such humorous consequences for the communities around the site, who were badly affected by the dust and waste. John Large, an independent nuclear analyst, has said to the Guardian: “The Olympic site’s hurried and unplanned development may have resulted in a great deal of public harm to the local communities remaining around the site.” This was treated with contempt by the authorities. When local residents complained of dust and irritation, their complaints were brushed off as “anecdotal”. The local Manor Gardens allotments were still growing food crops whilst areas exposing radioactive material were left unmarked and unprotected, gambling with the health of the residents, workers and those who consume the crops.
The environment is considered to be the third pillar of Olympianism, and officials have gone out of their way to advertise 2012 as the greenest Olympics yet. But in reality, a lot of sacrifices have been made to see the Olympics go green. In 2000, a £7.8m grant for Stratford’s ongoing regeneration was given from the LDA for Bully Fen community woodland to create a green legacy in the area. This has now been closed to the public, along with the nearby Manor Gardens Allotments, which marked the end of the vegetable beds and of the allotment community. 13 acres of open space at Arena Fields has also been destroyed to make way for the Media centre, destroying mature trees and therefore decimating the Olympics carbon neutral target! Last month, the London Assembly warned the Olympics could fall short of it’s environmental targets, but this concern should pale in comparison to the potential explosive nature of the games: there’s an unexploded Nazi bomb under the stadium! Maybe we shouldn’t joke, as 2012 is deemed (doomed) to be a bit of a terrorist magnet, but with radioactive waste and bombs already on site, what’s the point of wasting more money on security?
It is clear that there is a lot more goes on behind the scenes than is let on by Olympic officials. But who are these mysterious people who sit behind the scenes of the Olympics? The International Olympic Committee is a group of unelected, diplomatically immune folks who hold exclusive rights to the Olympics and preside over a billion-dollar franchise. Did we mention their tax breaks? Ever since Samaranch’s presidency in 1980, the IOC has been riddled in corruption scandal. Claims of “unethical conduct” surrounding the most recent bids did not really shock us, especially since the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics where 20 out of 110 IOC members had been given goodies for their vote. Only this week Panorama has exposed IOC member Issa Hayatou has been accused of taking bribes from a sport-marketing firm who would be awarded lucrative 2018 World Cup rights. Is it about time to question the place of an organisation which is self-elected, to decide the fate of an entire city, yet entirely unaccountable for what happens? Architect David Mackay, designer of the Olympic village in Barcelona, has said of the 2012 Olympics “[they are] concentrated to the best desires of the IOC who want everything for their three-week pageant. They’ve gone too far, it’s not for Londoners”. Perhaps England losing the World Cup bid was for the best; Boris Johnson has resorted to IOC-like tactics to reprimand FIFA chiefs by withdrawing their free accommodation at The Dorchester. But whether we like it or not, London is the host for the 2012 Olympics. But perhaps, as Pierre de Coubertin says, the most important thing about the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.
Top 5 things if you can’t wait for 2012:
- Become an ambassador for London. Forget that you are being exploited for nothing, sitting in a booth answering questions from gormless tourists and bask in the reflected Olympics glory. Click here to sign up. If you live in one of the Host Boroughs, you could also volunteer for Changing Places, which has been set up to help the local communities prepare for 2012. It sounds like they might need it.
- Train like an Olympian. Join up for the 2011 race and run the marathon! Sorry, the ballot’s closed now. But you can still team up with a charity and run for a good cause.
- You love the Olympics, but you know the logo is awful – an online survey on the BBC website found 80% of people gave it the lowest possible rating. Apparently, it can even cause migranes. Design a new one…
- Take a tour of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Guided tours every day at 11 from Bromely-by-Bow Underground station. Or, save £8, avoid the tube strikes and stay out the cold. Just take a virtual tour.
Top 5 things if you don’t want to wait for 2012:
- Sign up to GamesMonitor and support those who have been negatively affected by the Olympics, from the unique bream who will no longer spawn on the banks of the river Lee to the destroyed community of Clays Lane. Seize back the agenda and make the locals the winners of the Olympic legacy. Support their fight to win back the marathon route.
- Take a long holiday in the summer of 2012. Where’s you best bet to avoid the Olympic hype? If you are an old fart who wants to avoid television and radio coverage, visit ( ).
- Hold your own rival Olympics. Why not have a street race in Tower Hamlets that LOCOG doesn’t want the world to see, starting at () and finishing
- Start saving for taxis. Sunny officials are adamant we will squeeze 250,000 people into the tube carriages, even though we are packed like sardines during a rush hour. More down-to-earth games chiefs have told us to avoid the tube like the plague, and with mobile reception soon to be available underground, we would rather run to work than squish next to some sweaty bloke complaining to his friend about how bloody awful the tube is.
- You know the Olympics is all about getting youth involved in sport and preventing child obesity, but you’re certain most people will be slouched in front of the television watching rather than playing the games. Join the petition to stop Cameron reducing sport in schools to really get a new generation involved in sport.
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