I have a Canadian friend who this week sent me a message asking if I was excited about the Olympics. She is something of an Olympic fanatic and is very much looking forward to watching the games, which of course will be held here in London. I am not an athlete and have never really been interested in playing sports myself. I played netball at school but that was about it. I watch a lot of football, love the Grand Prix F1 motor racing and like to watch a bit of the tennis at Wimbledon. I also like to watch the 20/20 cricket. I go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week, and have a love/hate relationship with it. I love the results but hate the effort!!
The Olympics has cost the UK tax payer an awful lot of money. We don’t get a choice in how our taxes are spent. At a time when our public services are facing huge cuts, job losses, austerity measures and are struggling to cope, we are spending billions on the games. Our health services, defence services and police services have all been in the news again this week as they are being asked to make even more millions of pounds of cuts. The Olympic budget has been overspent since about the first week – but that is ok.
Hotel bookings and tourism bookings in general are down by an estimated 60% in London during the games period I read last week. Hotel rooms that had grossly over inflated their prices are now offering the same rooms at usual prices having realised that they can’t actually make a fast buck from the games. The terror threat risk is very high for the games period. This means extra police are needed, extra security at airports, ports, defence missiles on top of peoples homes near the games sites and so on. Extra demands on the very services that despite having billions of pounds to spend on the Olympics, have been mercilessly cut to save money in recent years.
Our transport system has been improved to be able to cope with the extra passengers during the games. Just last week the entire tube line in that area was shut due to flooding, bus drivers were on strike and everybody had to drive or walk. Bus drivers and tube drivers have been striking and threatening to strike because they want extra money for working during the games. Demanding extra money to do their jobs. Yes really. Apparently it will be busier for them. Now, I am no expert but you can only get so many people on a tube train or bus. Every tube and bus is jam packed during rush hours in London on a daily basis anyhow, so actually, that probably means that there will just be bigger queues everywhere!!
I drive in and out of London each day to work. I have to use the main route from West to East London – The North Circular. The roads are congested and my 20 mile journey regularly takes me an hour and a half each way. For several months now there have been big signs along my route telling me that I should plan my travel carefully during the games. “Get ahead of the games” is the message. On one of the busiest and most congested junctions that I cross, a lane in each direction is going to be an “Olympic Lane”. There are many of these Olympic Lanes being marked out across London. Therefore, unless you are on official Olympic business you will not be able to use these lanes – which is going to make a road network that can barely cope now, even worse. So, essentially, London is going to grind to a halt, and getting to and from work will be even more of a misery, if not impossible, for millions of people.
Mr Cameron has this week stated that the UK economy will get an estimated £13 billion pound boost from the games over the next four years. Being that it has actually cost us £11 billion to host the games – a four fold increase from the original budget, it’s not actually that impressive even if true. The Olympics are organised according to the organisers rather than the host cities requirements. Because of this, we have the obscene spectacle of spending £40m on a basketball arena and £19m on a water polo venue, only to be pulling them down once the crowds disappear. Barely a third of britons actually think that it is worth the cost. In reality, the Olympic Games have not turned a profit in over three decades since they were expanded.
It is said that the games will inspire a new generation of children to want to become athletes. I was speaking to a primary school teacher just a couple of weeks ago. Every primary school was promised a visit by an Olympic Athlete after we won the bid to host the games. The athlete had indeed visited her primary school to inspire the children, and was apparently great. Then he asked for donations from the children to help with the sponsorship for him to be able to continue competing. All athletes rely on sponsorship and donations, they do not get a salary. Most of the kids lost interest at this point which is very sad.
And then there is our weather, with the exception of a week or so in late May, it has rained heavily and continuously here since early April. Forecasters are predicting that this won’t change any time in the next month. This weekend has seen several music festivals cancelled and spectators are being asked not to attend this weekends British grand Prix. Roads and towns are flooded across the country, with traffic queuing and unable to use the roads. Everything is water logged. This will surely affect several events?
I have no doubt that our opening and closing ceremonies will be spectacular. Also, we have some amazing athletes that I hope bring us glory and gold medals because they work so, so hard to compete for their country. I don’t disagree with the Olympics as an event – I actually think sporting events unite people and bring hope and excitement. I enjoy watching sporting events. I disagree with the insane amounts of money that are spent to host and promote them in a time when the money could and should be better spent by those running our governments. Someone, somewhere must make money from it – but I bet the good old british Tax Payer doesn’t.
Stratford was an area that was going to be regenerated regardless of winning the bid to host the Olympics. But few people setting out on an urban regeneration scheme would seek to spend vast sums on flamboyant sports stadiums. The usual style is to use limited state revenues on facilities for daily living such as homes, offices, schools and hospitals. And what will come of the mighty Olympic Park once the games are over? Will we benefit from such a grand regeneration? Well, no actually. The Wellcome Trust wanted to spend £1bn buying the Olympic Park to create a global scientific research hub with 7,000 jobs. Instead, organisers sought a quick return by selling the athletes’ village to the Qatari royal family and a firm of private developers.
Like many, we have decided to take our family summer holiday to coincide with the first 2 weeks of the games. I will be watching the opening ceremony, some of the games, and cheering on our athletes. I will enjoy the games much more sat in the sunshine in Tenerife as opposed to the traffic and public transport chaos of a rainy London Town in the throes of Olympic meltdown!!
I also suspect (and hope!) that my Canadian friend will love every minute of it! 🙂