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Olympics 2012 - A defeat for Londoners

Andy Newman


£15 million has been spent already just bidding for the Olympic games for London. But now that the 2012 games have finally been awarded to London more direct costs will fall upon the citizens of that city; and the ideological defeat that a London Olympics represents will be experienced by the whole working class.

Firstly there is a direct financial cost. As Kevin Blowe has written "The government has said that, initially, £1.5 billion will come from the National Lottery and up to £550 million from London council tax. After that a further contribution of £75 million will come from council taxes and then £250 million from the London Development Agency. This assumes that the Olympic redevelopment manages to keep to budget. According to the Auditor-General of New South Wales, Sydney 2000 ended up costing over twice the pre-bid figures. In Athens, total costs will be at least four times as high as the bid committee's initial budget. It is worth remembering that twelve months before the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the government needed to provide an emergency cash injection of £105m."

According to Kevin: "In Sydney, underused venues are costing taxpayers A$46m (£18m) a year to keep afloat and will lose money for at least another decade. The Super Dome, where the closing ceremony was held, recently went into receivership. After the Athens Games, the Greeks face a £6.25bn debt and £60m a year for the upkeep of its unused facilities."

This is an allegedly Green Olympic plan, but these claims are rubbish. The Olympics will have a large and negative environmental impact. Most obviously, 50 mature trees will be felled in the Olympic zone located between Homerton Road and Stratford High Road, which incorporates the Bow Back Rivers. According to an environmental audit carried out by the campaign group NOLondon2012: "The river system of the Lower Lea is, according to the Environment Agency, extremely complex and is very important in terms of its flood relief function. The network of channels and their associated wildlife is probably unique in London. Over the years, the Lower Lea Project/Lea Rivers Trust, have carried out improvements along the waterways, which has involved planting, vegetation management and habitat creation, as well as clean-ups. It has also run an education programme and organised walks which has introduced thousands of children and adults to the waterways."

This habitat will be destroyed with a network of concrete bridges and a large part of the waterways will be culverted, making the area much less sympathetic to wildlife. The Olympic stadium will rise to 50 metres and its shading effect on the surrounding land and waterways will be significant.

As NOLondon2012 reports: "A new 'park' is promised post Olympics, providing a greater amount of open space than now exists. This park will not be created until 2020 (8 years after the games), and meanwhile public amenity of the area will be lost. There are, as yet, no financial arrangements for the management of a new park, and no organisation has claimed they want to run it. By 2020, will anyone remember a park was promised?"

But it is vitally important to also recognise that the ideology behind the Olympics is completely bankrupt, and of no benefit to working people. At its most blatant, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has admitted that £340 million will be channelled from the existing sports lottery distributors. So the Olympics will actually take money away from participative sport provision for ordinary people, and channel it towards elite professional athletes.

Already for the Beijing Olympics planned for 2008 UK Sport, the body that distributes funding under the World Class performance Programme is spending £57.5 million supporting just 320 elite competitors, plus a further £16 million to their sporting bodies. This Includes £600000 to support one professional weightlifter; £5.3 million for the equestrian team, £2 million for high diving, and over £1 million for the archery team.

The aim of UK Sport is to increase Britain’s Olympic medal tally. But note that the funding does not go towards sports where there is mass participation or even spectator interest. It is focussed onto activities where individuals can be groomed to produce maximum results. We will have the appalling spectacle of a flag waving extravaganza of national chauvinism, where the Queen and Prime Minister (Gordon Brown?) wrap themselves in the Union Jack; and we are encouraged to have a vicarious identification with elite athletes participating in sports that outside of the Olympic time none of us take any interest in, just because through accident they carry the same passport as us.

The sporting ideal represented by the Olympics was described the French Marxist, Jean-Marie Brohm, as "physical torture put on as entertainment … held up as politically neutral and culturally legitimate". This is absolutely correct, and there is far too little critical examination of the negative effect of competitive sport pushing the human body to the limits of its physical capacity. For example the British marathon runner Paula Radcliife has explained that her distinctive head rolling while running is a mechanism for dealing with the debilitating pain she experiences. A French army instructor recently expressed the philosophy brilliantly on TV, saying "pain is weakness leaving the body"

It is instructive that the sports which exemplify the Olympics are those based upon direct comparative measurement: for example, athletics, swimming, weightlifting, cycling, skiing and boxing. The competition is between those who can best sublimate their human individuality and transform their body into a machine for producing the most efficient performance: the transformation of human beings into abstract physical labour that can be measured and compared. It is no coincidence that the origin of these alienated sports where the element of play is entirely absent coincided with the emergence of wage labour as the dominant relationship of production; a process which removed play and enjoyment from the daily experience of productive labour.

Of course, the increased popularity of weightlifting and aerobic exercise in gyms and fitness clubs is due not only to an increasing cultural recognition of the benefits of exercise, but also because the endorphin rush experienced when the body is pushed to the limits of its physical strength or endurance is genuinely pleasurable. This is a legitimate and (in moderation) a healthy and beneficial leisure activity

However, to compete at an international level subverts the pleasure and benefit of moderate physical exercise and turns it into a masochistic regime where human beings are subordinated to maximising the outputs of their own bodies, even at the cost of their long term health or mental well being. The Olympics - and even more so the Tour de France – are dominated by performance enhancing drugs, and the effective collusion by the sports’ governing bodies.

What is more, the training infrastructure and the development of sports science is much more advanced in the developed economies of the imperialist powers. So every four years the Olympics gives an opportunity for the great powers to ideologically demonstrate that their world dominance is underpinned by an implicit biological and racial superiority. This is one of the impetuses behind the prestige of holding the games – an orgy of conspicuous consumption that validates the host nation as a major power.

And alongside the sporting content there are huge financial interests, in the construction of the stadiums - which will largely lay empty and unused after the jamboree is over – in the construction of housing and transport infrastructure; In advertising and sponsorship; in security and administration; and of course in Television and broadcast rights. All of this will be paid for, one way or another, by the working classes, through the lottery – that tax on hope – through increased Council Tax, and through direct taxation.

But the biggest defeat of London getting these games is the reinforcing of the ideology of sport as being coincidental with a classless, idealised national interest. And the more insidious acceptance of the ideological construct of sport – a fully developed capitalist industry based upon the competition of idealised people acting as machines.

A society based upon the primacy of meeting human needs, and valuing the well balanced health and happiness of people may include competitive play, but it will never award gold medals for those who submit to an iron tyranny of the clock and the measuring tape as arbiters of human worth.


July 2005


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