Olympic overload by Quentin Bates

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I don’t live in London. In fact, I rarely venture inside the M25, the orbital motorway around the city that provides its de facto limits. For the next few weeks, you can be as sure as hell I won’t be going near the place as the Olympics grind into action.

Pardon me for being a tired old cynic, but surely London needs the Olympic Games like it needs a hole in the head. You can maybe guess I’m not a fan? The whole thing is one long yawn as far as I’m concerned*, all those interminable races and events with milliseconds sandpapered off previous records. Excuse me, but to my mind  a race run in 37.62 seconds is is indistinguishable from a race run in 37.59 seconds.

The run-up to the Olympics has been roughly what could have been expected. It’s produced endless turmoil, the whole shebang is going to cost a fortune, and it’ll all be a frantic rush to get everything ready for the opening date. I seem to recall dimly that this happens with every Olympic Games as there are scandals over contractors not building to schedule, promises not kept, budgets that are forgotten as real cost of all this stuff inevitably spirals out of control. You’d have thought people would have figured this out by now and would have learned by experience, but apparently not.

London 2012 has had its fair share of scandals, not least that the private security firm contracted to supply security staff also managed to screw up and at the last minute the British government is quite literally having to send in the troops.

The latest joke doing the rounds is, how many G4S staff does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: six soldiers and a police officer.

The root of the problem seems to be that the criteria to qualify as a security guard at the Olympics are stiff, while the hourly rate offered by G4S was pretty dismal and not enough to attract the people of the calibre they were looking for. You’d have thought the principle of peanuts/monkeys was fairly well known by now.

The press has, naturally, had a field day with all this, as there’s nothing we Brits like more than abject failure as a spectator sport. The G4S chief honcho being coaxed into admitting his company had monumentally cocked up was a wonderful piece of radio, while also admitting that his company will lose a breathtaking amount of cash on the venture.

This is the unpalatable part of the whole thing. I don’t normally like to be a grouch, but the whole thing leaves a sour taste. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for sporting prowess. But what turns the belly is the thought of all those competitors who have trained for years, fought for a place, dedicated large chunks of their lives towards doing something superlatively well, scrimped and saved and scrounged sponsorship, and then travelled half-way around the world for what is for many of them the chance of a lifetime – while the fat cats are busily raking in the moolah on the back of all that effort.

The sporting ideals of the ancient Olympics (in which no women were allowed, men competed naked and the only reward was a garland of leaves) have been long left behind. You could be forgiven for thinking that the real winners in these games are the corporate sponsors who will gain some global mega-advertising through this. It’s also incongruous that a sporting event of this global magnitude with its supposed mens sana in corpore sano ethic is sponsored by a burger chain, a chocolate manufacturer and a fizzy drinks company. All you need is a cigarette manufacturer and a vodka distillery on board and you’d have the whole gamut of unhealthy crap represented.

Oh, and if you do happen to be one of the lucky ones who did get a ticket, don’t be tempted to smuggle in a sandwich. Food has to be bought on-site from one of the sponsors, preferably using a Visa card. Yes, Visa are another sponsor.

So the losers are likely to be the Londoners and the rest of the people who live in south-eastern England who are seeing their lives interrupted by the turmoil. Thousands of athletes and spectators are overburdening the creaking transport infrastructure, watching as the bigwigs in their chauffeur driven cars are driven back and forth along lanes closed to anyone else. We couldn’t have these important people being late, let alone mildly inconvenienced like the rest of us, could we?

So there you go. For the next few weeks I won’t be glued to the box or cursing that I didn’t get tickets for the middleweight discus events or freestyle caber-tossing. I’ll happily let the whole thing pass me by.



*That obviously doesn’t include Ladies’ Beach Volleyball, the only Olympic sport that’s even mildly tempting.

Fortunately Britain has one newspaper that concentrates on the real burning issues of the day. Syria descending into civil war? The economy coming apart at the seams? The government coalition tearing itself to shreds? No. Last week a Sun headline covered the terrible summer weather and the dire possibility that if it doesn’t improve, the ladies competing in beach volleyball events may have to cover up and wear clothes instead of the skimpy stuff the punters are hoping to see. That would be a disaster on an Olympic scale.

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