banksy - Banksy welcomes the London Olympics with satirical street art

I love the Olympics but....

Many people may not take me for the typical straight male sport addict, a victim of Chomsky's manufactured consent adage. I either exude an air of self righteous piety or in some way fit people's preconceptions such that many assume I'm a vegan, earth lover with no vices. Alas this is of course not the case. One of my many vices is an addiction to sport that goes back to childhood. FA Cup Finals, World Cup football, Test Match cricket and the Olympics were great summer milestones throughout my early years in suburban Ilford. So I have to confess I have been consuming London 2012 tv like, well, an addict.

There are a lot of contradictions here so I'm going to attempt to untangle a few. I'll leave it to the silent majority of sport haters, those who cannot understand the absurdity of most sport, to speak for themselves. I dare say the London Games are driving them mad. Or perhaps they are just enjoying themselves doing something more productive than watching other people exercise.

Now I'm not seeking to spoil the party. As I said I'm an addict and I get genuine pleasure from watching Usain Bolt win the 100m final with the second fastest sprint in human history. The fact he does it with such comparative ease and is a very likeable hero helps. The Virgin Media adverts are a minor detraction. He revels in being a clown as well as the worlds greatest ever sprinter. Even worse I'm in love with Jess Ennis. Pathetic I know. Victim not only of sport but also media celebrity soft porn propaganda. And she advertised BP! Still you (well I) can't help loving her diminutive combination of power, speed and beauty. I almost cried when she stormed past everyone to win her 800m and take Gold. Both Ennis and Bolt are worthy of admiration as are many other impressive athletes who dedicate their lives to their sporting achievement.

But of course there are buts. The London Olympics is a great party. But its a party with many contradictions. First it cost £11bn. That's a lot of cash for any party, and at a time of pay freezes for nurses, etc., benefit & public sector pension cuts, carnage in the NHS, etc. it is more than a little profligate. It's also five times what we were told it would be when the bid was made (£2.35bn). Yes there are fringe feel good factor and inspirational side effects but they have their very real limits. Kids may be inspired but what exactly are we selling them? Already millions of boys grow up dreaming of football celebrity stardom only to realise its an unachievable, fantasy available to only 0.0001%. Yes a few sporting heroes are genuine role models (precious few footballers amongst them) but faced with the kinds of barriers most inner city kids are looking at Olympic dreams are more false hope and propaganda. Besides after an £11bn party there's nothing left in the pot for grassroots sport. Most national centres of excellence are facing cut backs, more prosaic local facilities are in perilous financial risk. Legacy is limited, if not completely absent. And the consequence of creating those false hopes is anger and despair aged 6 or 8, by the millions.

Of course anyone wanting to go out and play rugby or football on East Marsh will have to wait 3 years for it to be returned to grass from its current function as an Olympic car park. Leyton Marsh remains the focus of a liberation campaign, it having been illegally stolen for a 'temporary' superstar basketball training facility. Campaigners face vicious criminalisation to keep them silent during the party.

The point is London 2012 is a great party if you can afford it and if you are allowed in. The absurdity of the contradictions broke new ground yesterday with the anniversary of the 2011 riots. Lightweight media spinsters and banal commentators sought to contrast the two events with idiotic references to the games as 'London finest hour'. The truth they were all desperate to hide, indeed most completely failed to understand, is that the two events are representative of a divided city and a divided nation. Yes, if you consent, and if you can afford it, you might be allowed into the party. But the poor, the excluded, the underclass are decidedly unwelcome. The dozens of police vans blazing around Hackney and Tottenham yesterday evening were there to enforce the exclusion. You party on State terms or not at all.

And whilst some Olympic sports are relatively accessible others are elitist in their very essence. The spectacle of watching a Nigeria rower laughed at by privileged, white commentators at Eton was pretty nauseating. The attempt to spin his 'inclusion' as evidence of accessibility may have worked on the more gullible and ignorant but racist Olympic tokenism remains pretty crude.

The contradictions are not unique to the Olympics. It is after all just another prism or sideshow in the carnage of late capitalist decline. The big party is over, long over. We are just living through the hangover because those in power refuse to face reality, or rather insist on retaining power. It is the Assad, Gadafy, Mubarak syndrome and New World Order western elites are equally culpable.

It is hard to navigate the insanity. The political landscape is so distorted and strewn with mediated distractions. As I said I'm really not out to spoil the party. Take what comfort you can from the medal tables and performances if that's is, like me, what floats your boat. But do not be conned into thinking this is reality or any relation to it. In a sane world we could all marvel at human endeavour and capacity. We could even challenge our prejudices and fear about disability. But this is an insane world where MacDonalds and Coca Cola dictate the terms. Your kids can dream of great athleticism but they must eat and drink corporate poison. The trick is to retain your critical faculties, however painful that may be. By all means escape to the dream world for a while but everyone's future depends on us breaking out of the bubble and creating something very different.

BELOW - a few of the trees felled for the London Olympics venues

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Comment by Peter J I Snell on August 9, 2012 at 8:47

Anne Woollett was always a true star and respect is due to all those who worked to get the best deal out of the development. That includes some of my environmental health colleagues who managed the clean up of the contaminated land.  For the future of London I do believe doing nothing was not an option.  The tidal flow continually leached dangerous chemicals into the lower Lea and Thames. When I cycled back from out of hours duties in Newham I had to regularly report huge bonfires of old tyres and industrial refuse lit by scrapyard owners who though nobody would see them in the dead of night. I'm sure they generated more dioxins and other air pollutants than any publicly owned incinerators  I too worry about the changed tidal circumstances of the River Lea.  I was once told there was a magic week every year where the fish (barbel?) would gather to spawn just below the Lea Bridge weir amid a wild orgy of thrashing fins.  I never did get to see it and it was the worry that it might never happen again that prompted me to stop one of the guides showing visitors around the Olympic park wildlife habitats last week.  He provided the assurances given above.  Is this a London Wildlife Trust project? If so it would be good for Sustainable Hackney to get them to organise a walk around the rivers and wetlands and ensure we include informed critics able to challenge the official line. I'm happy to organise it if you have contacts. Current global capitalism is clearly unsustainable and destroying lives and the planet. That why everyone should support Sustainable Hackney in making some difference.    

Comment by Russell Miller on August 8, 2012 at 22:54

If it were only guilt it wouldn't be a problem Peter. 

It's the anger and outrage; the lies and the spin; the injustice and destruction.

We were promised unparalled inclusion, long lasting legacy and the 'Greenest Games ever'.  Your reassurance makes it harder to enjoy because I cannot bury my head in the sand.

Prestcott Lock dammed the River Lea destroying tidal and coastal habiat for miles up to Lea Birdge Rd.  We were told that was to ensure materials could be brought in by barge but NONE were. The destruction was to facilitate private, profit led housing development which was the main driver behind the games in the first place.  Hundreds of dedicated people (Anne Woollett former HMUG chair foremost amongst them) fought dozens of battles to mitigate the destruction.  Some battles we lost (e.g. Prescott Lock), others we won (e.g. preventing East Marsh disappeaing under concrete).  That cost hours of time and heartache from many, many people.

We will never recover the aquatic life of the imprisoned River Lea, now devoid of tidal flow and brackish water.  It grows more polluted each day as it is no longer flushed by the Thames tides.  Sea fish will never get back upstream.  The Red Data Book invertebrates of White Heart FIeld and Area Field are long gone and no amount of showy, out of season fowers will replace them.

There's nothing Green about London 2012 and there was never the slightest intention of them being sustainable. The idea was only invented to limit the post-Bejing expectation.  Even the phony, greenwash, eco-bling wind turbines never materialised (becuase no energy company was stupid enough to build a wind trubine in the lowest point in Hackney where there's no wind.  The battle to take back Leyon and East Marsh will go on for years, and many sleepless nights will be lost before there are won.

I will continue to try and enjoy what I can but I won't believe the lies or deny reality.  In one respect GB's medal haul is remarkable.  In other it illustrates how divided and elitist Britain has become.  The Right wing neo-Conservative thugs (Blair and Brown included) have transfered massive wealth from poor to rich and continue to do so now all avenues of accountability have been controlled.  The banksters and the market manipulating sharks predate the poor and vulnerable whilst their servants in parliament and the media distract and deceive.

Only the elite can ever win an Olympic medal.  In an open, democratic, meritocracy  sporting elites might merit genuine adultation.  In an autocratic, authoritarian, mythtopia celebrity is the new opiate, constructed to passify the dispossessed and enslaved.  A slave might cheer, laugh or cry at true greatness but one who forgets s/he is a slave will forever remain one.

Comment by Peter J I Snell on August 7, 2012 at 15:48

PS - Just checked.  The Czech disqualification was over-ruled.  Bad luck Perri but good luck for Rio.  I'll be watching the finals anyway.

Comment by Peter J I Snell on August 7, 2012 at 15:35

Don't feel guilty Russell. Just trust Ken Livingstone.  He said;

1.  The Olympics bid was all about cleaning up the pollution and it is unbelievable what they have already done and will continue to do over the next 25 years that the clean-up pump by Pudding Mill Station is due to run.

2.  The increased costs were to put in the service infrastructure to create a viable legacy of homes and jobs that would have been impossible without the new sewers and other services it paid for.

I've worked as a youth athletics coach / official with all the local Clubs so if anyone has children interested in running, jumping and throwing give me a call on 079 4117 9129 and I'll talk you through the local Athletics Club scene. Last time I checked it seemed local girl Perri had scraped into the 400m hurdle final via a disqualification.  I'll be glued to the TV watching it live at 20.45 tomorrow and I won't feel guilty at all.

As for the Olympic park.  The concrete culverts for the rivers that run through have all gone and been broken up and reused on site, for example. to create new hills.  The rivers and wet lands that now surround the river include purpose built spawning grounds for fish.  And the wildflower plantings are awesome. If you've not visited yet get a day ticket to the paralympics for £10.00 and see it while it's new. There were odd spots of the old Lower Lea that were lovely but generally it was a dump compared with the rest. Once we get it back that will no longer be the case. 

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