Why the Olympics is getting a kicking.
I still remember where I was when the announcement for the Olympics was made. I was downstairs in a conference room at a now defunct regional office with lots of other staff, watching the live announcement on the big screen. The room erupted with a massive cheer when the announcement was made that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games.
So what has happened between the atmosphere of 2005 and today that is dragging London 2012 through the mud?
I want to avoid the issues around the banking crisis and the economic downturn. The reason being that the scale of what has happened was outside of the direct control of Parliament – and could lead me down a blind alley. I want to focus on things specific to the London 2012 games.
Parliamentary proceedings – The London Olympics Bill
Shortly after the announcement, the Government introduced legislation into Parliament that would become the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006. A number of powers granted by this piece of legislation are now coming back to bite both the Government and the Olympics organisers. In particular regulations around advertising. Will we see some criminal offences contrary to sections 19-21 of the Act? Interestingly, the only MP to raise the issue of censorship and draconian regulations around advertising during Second Reading of the Olympics Bill (scroll to end paras) in the Commons was Maria Miller MP. Strikingly, the then Sports Minister Richard Caborn did not respond to the point that was being made. (Yes, I did a text search on the word “offence” through the transcript of that debate!)
Given that Miller raised this at Second Reading, it was always going to be scrutinised in more detail at Committee Stage – where you go through line-by-line (unless the Government ‘guillotines’ the debate (as Labour all-too-often did, meaning lots of legislation went through the Commons without being properly scrutinised). Clause 17 (advertising) and clause 19 (offences) are particularly interesting. I will leave it for you to decide whether Richard Caborn’s assurances to Miller and Don Foster MP (for Lib Dems) have been fulfilled.
McDonalds and Chipgate
I didn’t know whether it was some kind of a joke when I read about McDonalds and the ban on chips across the Olympic Park. I mean when is a chip not a chip? I guess there are a number of ways other caterers can react other than by mass disobedience – such as chipping other vegetables to see if they make a suitable alternative. Alternatively a mass social media campaign could force McDonalds to climb down.
What happened to a few advertising boards around the stadium?
For governments that claim to be ‘pro-market’ or ‘pro-business’, they’re actually achieving the opposite. The tenders to be official sponsors for the Olympics are no longer about advertising boards around the track or pitches, but about far far more – to the extent that it’s become about enforcing draconian monopolies around a range of goods and services for the benefit of multinationals and the expense of everyone else.
There’s the usual adverts with the branding “Official Sponsor” – but how many people think “Ooh! They are the official sponsor! I think I’ll have one of those!” It’s a bit like Carlsberg sponsoring the England football team. “Oooh! England playing soccerball on the television! That calls for a beer brewed under licence from a foreign-based multinational corporation!” But hey, I laugh at that stuff. Yes, I have a problem with saturation advertising. I change channels during adverts when I rarely watch TV or put the mute down. But things are getting a bit sinister now.
Sterile can mean different things to different people. To LOCOG it probably means the bits of land they control that only official sponsors are allowed to trade and advertise in, excluding everyone else. To others, it means a zone devoid of life. You kill germs to make things sterile, but it’s not just germs that are harmed by such substances. If that were the case, bottles wouldn’t be covered in warning labels.
Now, this isn’t about competition at all. This is about sponsors wanting to kill off all of the competition for their products and services. Some may claim that the ‘tendering process’ for monopoly rights is a competitive process. It’s not. It automatically excludes everyone who cannot afford to pay up front. It’s a massive barrier to entry to a market – thus it is an anti-competitive measure thus anti-market – especially given the prize at the end is a monopoly to sell your wares with no competitors around. The legislation I referred to above provides all the powers that LOCOG and its sub-contractors need to enforce the sterile zones. I imagine the Metropolitan Police will also have been briefed about criminal offences contrary to sections 19-22 of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006. They are obliged to enforce it because it’s the law.
So that deals with the sterile zones as far as traders are concerned. But what about the spectators? Have a look at the terms and conditions of ticket purchase – in particular 19.2 and 19.3. First there’s the banned items. “Excessive amounts of food” – define “excessive” because I bet people won’t be allowed to picnic in the park unless its bought from sponsors’ outlets. Gotta watch that clothing – especially if it’s got a slogan on it! Oh, and keep those flags from non-participating countries away too. (I’m not going to even go into who that could be aimed at). Then there’s the ‘behaviour’ which means freelance, amateur and non-accredited journalists will be restricted. As for 19.6.3, good luck with trying to regulate the internet. What PLANET are they on?!?! It’s getting to the stage where activists will be encouraging everyone to wear grey because that’s the only thing that will stop them from getting kicked out or arrested.
The tax breaks.
Not content with the enforced monopoly, they also don’t want to pay their tax. How nice of them. Shame that tax avoidance and tax evasion have hit the headlines since the games were awarded, legislation passed and contracts signed. The HMRC tax exemption came into force just as UK Uncut were kicking into gear in late 2010. See The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Tax Regulations 2010 for the law and HMRC guidance on exemptions.
So not only do we have the biggest multinationals in the world having a monopoly enforced for their pleasure (with potential criminal sanctions), they also don’t want to pay for the costs of that enforcement. How charming. These are the multinationals that operate day-to-day on high streets near you. What sort of message does that send to society?
Support sport by eating even more unhealthy food!
If anything isn’t a sporting legacy, it’s one of the largest fast food restaurants on the planet. Long after the games are finished and the bunting taken down, that restaurant will still be there – a legacy of an event supposed to encourage people into sport. It’s got to the stage where healthcare professionals are calling for manufacturers and sellers of junk food to be banned from sponsoring the Olympics.
Support sport by making way for VIPs too!
Yes – those Olympic lanes. Think about it – no really – think about it. London is a traffic nightmare at the best of times, but how much will these lanes cost the London economy? It’s not the athletes I’m blaming – a more sensible option would have been to host them close to the venues they are competing at, rather than this.
But it wouldn’t be a major sporting competition to have such perks for competitors only – you have to have the VIPs using them too – heads of states, members of the International Olympic Committee etc. We’re talking about some people from some not-very-nice regimes. Not very nice regimes appointing their chums to the IOC. Expect to see the entourages of tinpot dictatorships being whisked from one West-End or Knightsbridge shop to another then back to their hotels while Londoners are stuck in traffic jams? Londoners…oh yes, multicultural melting pot with lots of people from all over the world who have understandably fled repressive dictatorships…which are now coming to London all at the same time and who are going to be marked out by the lanes in which they are driven in. Somebody REALLY didn’t think this through, did they? Given the examples of UK-Uncut-style protests along with it not being cold and wintery (Okay, it’s rainy but it ain’t freezing) along with long daylight hours in a time of economic downturn while the super-rich flaunt their wealth? No, I don’t want to predict a riot either but I do worry.
Well at least the security is all sorted then!
“Oh bo…vine testicles. What do you mean it isn’t?“ With less than a month to go before the Games kick off, the leading security contractor has said it cannot meet its contractual brief. Hence the Defence Secretary announcing another 3,500 military personnel being drafted in. Channel 4 went to town on it. Wasn’t anyone monitoring the risks at a grassroots level? Mystery shoppers and all that? Bloddy hell! But hey, what does it matter when your firm made a £37million profit in 2010 and one of your top directors is a former home secretary who sits in the House of Lords. Who needs lobbyists eh? Looking at their policy on lobbying, they say they don’t do party political lobbying. I’m assuming they’ll say this is for the UK only because their annual report at the very end of p57 says something VERY different.
Well, at least Keith Vaz has summoned the company’s chairman and chief executive to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee - one that my local MP Julian Huppert also sits on. Go on Jules! Make them grovel!!! Actually – make them justify paying their top director (probably the chief exec) a total of £1.66million in 2010. Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.
Well…I guess I should be content that these two chaps are coming to my part of the world on Sunday. But after all of the above, how can I feel supportive of London 2012? I want to be – and I’d LOVE for the games to be an outstanding success with a long-lasting positive legacy across the country. But I fear it won’t be. I’m angry too, because competitors all over the world have put in a huge amount of effort, and volunteers a huge amount of time into making London 2012 a success. Even Puffles’ friend Tanni Grey-Thompson who has done a huge amount of work raising the profile of the Paralympics and its competitors.
I would say commercialism and all that goes with it is killing The Games. It’s already killed it in the minds of many people. And you know what? It was all so utterly avoidable. Seamus Milne had similar thoughts too. Parliament – pressured and whipped by an intensively lobbied Government passed the legislation that allowed all of this to happen. I guess we allowed this to happen because so many of us were unaware that this was all going on – caught up in the rat race of the boom and the bubble. I know I was. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I hope therefore that this is the last major international tournament that completely sells out to big business. But I fear we are more than a few more events away from that. It will take the implosion of a major sporting organisation (such as FIFA which could be on its way) before anything changes. Because change is what is needed.
[UPDATE 13 July]