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Why I don’t support the Olympics

June 6, 2012

A while ago, TV presenter Gabby Logan appeared on Room 101. I saw this happen, but I only know who it was because I just looked it up. That I have to be reminded of Gabby Logan’s existence is an accurate summary of my feelings towards her 90% of the time. However, this time, whilst I may have forgotten the source entirely, Gabby Logan’s words on Room 101 raised my ire.

I have learnt to take opinions expressed on shows like Room 101 with a pinch of salt. After all, this is a format that doesn’t encourage proportionate discussion. Those appearing are actively encouraged to complain, and do little but complain, about multiple subjects. Success is measured in persuasiveness and force of argument. Anyone paying the slightest amount of attention to any kind of politics knows that this is not a formula likely to produce honesty or useful ideas. What mainstream broadcast of this style of debate does for the public’s ability or inclination to discuss things in a way tailored towards progress is another subject for another time (it’s probably quite relevant to this and many other topics, but it’s also massive and complex, and as such, I’m leaving it for now).

Nonetheless, Gabby Logan still managed to make me slightly angry. Not because of who she is, not because Frank Skinner agreed she had argued her corner strongly enough to have her pet dislike (or, to use another term, “thing that she thought of that was topical and that she could say some words about”) figuratively banished from the social consciousness, but because of the subject itself. Gabby Logan, for money on an ultimately meaningless TV show, casually put forth people who complain about the Olympics as a subject worthy of disdain.

I don’t blame Gabby Logan. Gabby Logan is a relatively successful public figure, and as such probably has very little in terms of circumstance and general lifestyle about which she could reasonably complain. But still, this annoyed me, because I’ve been complaining about the Olympics, and I don’t think it’s at all wrong to do so. In fact, I’m of the opinion that it’d be wrong for me to do anything else.

Contrary to people who’ve argued with me about it, I don’t like complaining about the Olympics. I don’t like complaining about anything. I wish I didn’t feel like I had to complain about things. I wish there weren’t things about which I felt the need to complain. But I feel the need to complain about the Olympics, and my reasons are quite simple: the Olympics is doing a lot of bad, and not very much good.

People will be at the Olympics waving Union Flags (Union Jack only when it’s flown at sea, yes I do only know that because of Doctor Who). People already are equating the Olympics being in London with national pride. But I, who would identify as both a patriot and a sport fan, am not proud. The discontent started early, when anti-elitism protester Trenton Oldfield’s crashing of the Boat Race was labelled by various parties as being akin to idiocy, the worrying implications of which were brilliantly and hilariously identified by the Guardian’s Barney Ronay.

It went further. Illustrious bleached runner Iwan Thomas embarked upon a new career as a public ignorance cheerleader with a piece on BBC One’s The One Show, in which he styled protesters at sporting events as an annoyance to athletes, the “last thing you want” when you’re trying to compete. A small part of me had some sympathy for this – the things about the Olympics with which I take issue (coming up soon, I promise, bear with me) are hardly the fault of the athletes. But that doesn’t supersede the public’s right to protest at that with which they take issue.

Iwan Thomas seems to think it does, though. He confronted a protester and became enraged when “she had answers for everything” (apparently a point to be held against her, rather than one signifying that she’d won the argument). Athletes, and indeed commentators, organisers and all other personalities involved, get no sympathy from me if they dismiss any protest as an annoyance that could not possibly have reasons more important than their sport.

Ah, yes. Reasons. 700 words in, I’m sure you’re wondering what they are. Well, let’s start with the bespoke copyright legislation insisted upon by the IOC before they would grant us the games, legislation which prohibits anyone but officially affiliated companies (paid sponsors, that is) from using Olympics-related terms, including “London”, the capital city of our country, “gold”, a type of metal with just a smidge of cultural significance beyond being what the best medals are made of, and most ludicrously, “2012” and “summer”, respectively famous for being the year that it is and a season that happens regularly with utter disregard as to whether Coke, Cadburys, McDonalds and Heineken have funded it. Here’s some more detail on the subject.

Pubs can’t advertise that they’re showing the Olympics. Shops can’t use related imagery or terms to capitalise on the tourist influx. Apparently, this is because it would upset those who’ve paid for sponsorship, and without that money, the Olympics couldn’t happen. Let me be far from the first to say FINE. I don’t want an Olympics that either a) allows itself to be held to ransom by companies who refuse to let any small business take advantage of a big event in their city, or b) refuses to let any small business take advantage of a big event in their city then blames it on arbitrary corporate glad-handing in which it should be embarrassed to take part.

Furthermore (though less importantly), this legislation could greatly impede on the enjoyment of people who’ve jumped through the many hoops required to secure tickets to any of the Games. The legislation prohibits attendees from uploading their own photos to social media. In 2012. The first Olympics in a world where Twitter is truly, massively mainstream is one where you will be a criminal if you tweet a picture of your view of Usain Bolt in the starting blocks from your £725 seat. If you’re a ticket holder, you can’t engage with these games like you do with so much else in your everyday life, and you must instead sit there and be marketed to. If you’re, say, a Coventry City fan, it is illegal for you to share your photos of Olympic football being played on your club’s home turf with your Facebook friends.

The athletes even get some sympathy from me on the subject of brand protection. No engaging with your fans via social media from inside the athlete’s village. Don’t comment on any other Olympic event, because any kind of team spirit or whatnot could be construed as journalism, which isn’t your job, you tasty little commercial vessel. Oh, and if you see someone save an old woman from being mugged by decking the assailant with a full can of Pepsi, you probably shouldn’t mention it. Or just call it “cola”. Or just lie and say it was Coke.

This legislation has clearly confused even those who are there to put it into practice – security at the Olympic village were recently caught trying to stop people taking photos and filming footage of the Olympic stadium from public land, which is perfectly legal even under the batshit strictness of the IOC’s bespoke laws. Security guards being confused about anything is rather troubling, particularly if they’re inclined to act with overzealousness and harshness over it. Sadly, that seems to be precisely the end product (well, one of them) of this ham-fisted and unclear legislation.

So there’s a multitude of reasons of a similar tone. On to a different one, one that deeply upset me: the stories of people getting kicked out of their homes by landlords wanting to capitalise on premium rent prices (Guardian article, Metro article). Strictly speaking, this is not directly the fault of the IOC, but it does directly contravene their promise that the Games will create more housing (a benefit further debunked, along with all the others, by the excellent Space Hijackers, here). And, when so much is being spent to investigate the benefits and effects of the games, you’d have thought the possibility would have come up somewhere, especially when so many innocent, harmless parties are being warned off behaviour that the IOC views as malicious. This is bigger than a pub that doesn’t sponsor you writing some words on a blackboard to drum up a bit more business during a worldwide economic crisis. This is people making other people homeless. The IOC will protect the rights of Procter & Gamble, but if you’re a person who wants to continue living in your home during an Olympics you didn’t ask for, you can rot.

It would be a fair statement, perhaps even an understatement, to say that our country and its citizens are making massive concessions for these Games. It would be even fairer to ask: To what end? What benefit does the country get? Sure, there’s probably quite a bit of tourist money coming in (and hopefully pubs, for example, will either ignore the legislation, or people will just assume they’re showing the Olympics and go in anyway), but I imagine relatively little of that revenue will go directly to recouping the approximately £24 billion spent on staging the Games (ten times the original estimate, if memory serves). By my calculation, ticket revenue will equal about £37 million if all the tickets are sold. I don’t know how much is made from TV rights, but my guess would be that most of it would go to the IOC rather than recouping the tax money spent (feel free to correct me in the comments). How much more can be won back with food, drink and official merchandise?

It makes me wonder what I’ve missed with other events I’ve supported. It makes me wonder whether I should be looking forward to the Rugby World Cup coming over here in 2015 – while the International Rugby Board has a pretty good track record on quashing corporate bullshit (insisting that stadiums are called by a non-sponsored name in official coverage of the tournament, for example), their willingness to take it a step beyond the rational (such as fining players for a barely-visible logo on their gumshield) makes me worry that they could turn, and that if they did, it’d be hell, and I wouldn’t be able to tweet photos of World Cup rugby taking place on my beloved Welford Road turf. And I would have to support my country knowing that the price of their chance at glory was that someone slept on a mate’s sofa, or in an expensive hotel, or on the street, having pawned all their stuff because they had nowhere to put it. And that would upset me. And it would make me reconsider an otherwise virtually guaranteed ticket purchase.

I’m glad that I’ll now pay more attention to the important issues surrounding these events, but I’m also genuinely worried that I’ll never be able to enjoy a major sporting event again, solely because of the horrible people that might be either in charge or bankrolling those who are.

I’ll worry about that when the time comes, though. For now, as I can’t really afford to get to London nor think of any kind of effective protest to undertake if I could, I’ll have to adopt the grand British tradition of grumbling from afar. I just hope Gabby Logan, Iwan Thomas, LOCOG, all the Olympic athletes and preferably everyone else know that some of us are doing it for very good reasons.

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