Tuesday, February 22, 2005


This from the BBC London web site.

Year of the Rooster. Olympics. (Load of) Cock?

Nice thought having the Olympics in London. Then again, is it really a good idea?

Leave aside the transport issues. (Today: Jubilee Line signal failure, Clapham Junction power failure.) Forget Picketts Lock. The Dome? History. Tory Boy, Seb Coe, 150 grand a year to look smug. I can live with that.

What concerns me is the plain and simple money. London council tax payers will be lumbered with the bill for the bid - win or lose. Ok, it's 50p a week for a couple of years. But, that adds up to a lot of potatoes which could easily have been spent on improving sports and leisure facilities in London.

I'm more concerned if the bid succeeds. There will be no cap on the costs. No matter how well the Games run - and I've no doubt the organisation will be great - to get the facilities built in time is a massive logistical task. Putting all the pieces together will cost. And, I doubt that it'll be anywhere near budget.

For every "success" - LA, Barcelona - there's Montreal '76 (still being paid for by Montreal citizens and Quebecois) or Atlanta. Sydney is stuck with useless sports facilities even a sports mad country like Australia doesn't need.

I've seen arguments that Paris shouldn't get the Games because Stade de France will be 20 years old by 2012. Big deal. The much overhyped "successful" (read cheap) Los Angeles games had a 50 year old main stadium. Barcelona used an even older stadium.

Be that as it may, we'd get a new 80,000 capacity stadium in East London. For what? The country is already building (and paying for) the new Wembley. This should have been the main Olympic stadium, if not for the greed of the Football Association and, particularly, Ken Bates.

A successful London Olympic bid will pump money into gold-plated facilities whilst sport at the grass roots in the country is scandalously underfunded. Think about Herne Hill cycle centre - used in the 1948 games. The track closed last month after Southwark Council decided not to pay anymore rent to the landlord, Dulwich College. Herne Hill will hopefully re-open. Meanwhile, Coe's team want to spend millions to build a new velodrome. Again, we've already got a world class velodrome. It was built for the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002.

Not three miles from here sits Crystal Palace Sport Centre: a national disgrace. The swimming pool has been waiting for a decade or so for funds to be updated. The track - once our national venue - has deterioated. The country seems willing to pay not to update and upgrade Crystal Palace, but to spend 5 or 6 billion on unneeded facilities which are likely to be unused or dismantled after the games.

The state of swimming in London is appalling with underfunded, outdated pools. The Government (of both colours) has had a long policy of allowing schools to sell playing fields. These are the areas the Government of the day should address, not glossy developments in East London.

Regeneration. Yes, there is a crying need to pump money into East London. The site is a mile or so from where I used to live. I know its problems only too well. But, why the Olympics? Is it the necessary catalyst? I don't agree. Much of the money pumped in through the games will not benefit the community. It'll be on things that will last the length of the games and no more.

I am also deeply scepitcal of the alleged economic benefits put forward by the London Development Agency. They claim 5000 full-time jobs. Well, 6 billion is a lot of money to pay for 5000 jobs. Anyway, most of the jobs the games will bring are temporary. The LDA's assessment is another one of those lame econometric studies commissioned by industry to show the dubious spin-offs that they provide the community. Other independent economists - like Andrew Zimbalist in the US - have consistently shown that stadium and other sports developments do not kick-start local economies mainly because they divert investment and benefits from elsewhere.

Sure, the bid looks good in the videos and on the web site. But, check out the plans for Paris, Madrid, New York and, even Moscow. They are all impressive. I can't help think that 5 cities putting in all this effort is a waste and duplication.

Who should get the games? I tempted to say, I don't care as long as don't have to pay. I'm also tempted to say that the games should be in Athens every 4 years - also ditch the European and other regional championships in athletics so that the Olympics retain their special nature. I say take them back to somewhere that's had the games before. Make the 2012 games not only more green than any before, but also within a very constrained budget that won't break the bank for the host city. Maybe, Moscow?

:: Posted by pete @ 21:22