Monday, 6 August 2012

Olympics Review: It's not black and white

I’m sure lots of you will have been following with some excitement the progress of Team GB in the 2012 Olympics and often found yourself gripped. There have been some memorable moments from the second Bradley Wiggins (good choice) rang the bell to get the Opening Ceremony underway. I tuned in with a degree of scepticism considering how shambolically almost everything else – from ticketing to security – had hitherto been organised and was blown away. From celebrating radical parts of the UK’s history – from CND to the Jarrow Marchers to the suffragettes – to radically celebrating a national treasure like the NHS which is not radical in nature but radically different to the privatised or semi-privatised healthcare systems more common, it was such a welcome contrast to the impressive spectacle but intimidating order and synchronicity of the Beijing Opening Ceremony in 2008.

Uniting everyone – including Olymposceptics like myself – apart from a few Daily Mail readers and loony Tories (like this charming fellow) it celebrated things such as our technological advances and diversity, a contributor to the UK being third in the medal table, even featuring a depiction of the Windrush, the legendary ship transporting the first large group of West Indian immigrants to the UK. Warm and wonderfully witty at times, it struck a perfect balance of humour virtually the whole world understood – the Rowan Atkinson scene was genius, as was James Bond/The Queen – with relative in-jokes, with Michael Fish's hurricane etc. (you almost expected Phil Daniels to burst on stage singing Parklife or David Brent to make an appearance…). All alongside an outstanding soundtrack – from The Kinks to The Clash to Bowie to Blur to The Jam to Eurythmics to The Specials to New Order – not even spoilt by the inclusion of Muse and Coldplay towards the end.

It was a masterpiece that temporarily made us forget about everything bad, even the dismantling of the NHS overseen by the coalition government. The first few days of sport have at times been equally gripping, with highlights including Jessica Ennis’s magnificent gold medal in the heptathlon and Mo Farah’s thrilling win in the 10000 metres. For many of us, both were made even sweeter by the backgrounds of Farah and Ennis, which reflect Britain’s diversity the opening ceremony paid tribute to and exposing the Daily Mail and chums as not only the racist xenophobes we know they are but plain wrong, as you can see in the picture below.

It’s good to see so much support for Team GB over Twitter, but I’m uncomfortable about the way you’re almost not allowed to voice concerns or disappointment about anything Olympics-related without being portrayed as anti-Olympics or anti-British. I apologise if my last blogpost gave the impression that I was against the Olympics coming here. I’ve always been in favour of it coming to East London but remain disappointed at how much more it could have done in the long-term with regards to legacy, sport and housing, a frustration only heightened by the higher-than-expected number of athletes now heroes and role models who could have had an even bigger impact in promoting sport among young people if more had been invested in facilities and keeping more stadia.

Clearly there shouldn’t be a choice between watching/enjoying the Olympics or boycotting it. But that’s how these people like to frame it to avoid answering awkward questions about Dow Chemical or how giving centre stage to McDonalds and Coca Cola can possibly be promoting healthy lifestyles for young people. Say anything bad about LOCOG or the IOC and they depict you as enemy of the Olympics, Team GB and the country.

You’re not even allowed to enjoy or celebrate anything if you’ve said anything bad about the Olympics at some point. When the whole Twittersphere (bar the Mail and other enemies of multiculturalism) celebrated the outstanding achievements of Team GB’s track athletes on Saturday, some felt the need to write things like ‘Tonight goes to show anyone criticizing the Olympics organisers is ridiculous’. So we’re not allowed to bask in the glory of track success because we raised legitimate concerns about a lack of provision for youngsters wanting to become the next Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis? We’re not allowed to celebrate the brilliance of Jason Kenny and co. because we expressed concerns about the way cyclists are treated in the capital and the lack of cycle lanes both during the games and after, shown to be extremely valid by the tragic death of cyclist Daniel Harris on a dangerous junction which London Cycling Campaign's concerns about were ignored by LOCOG and local authorities. It’s like saying anyone who didn’t vote for a certain government isn’t allowed to enjoy or celebrate anything good they do.

And then the empty seats. The only thing more sickening for the many to miss out on tickets than the sight of thousands of empty seats not just at morning events in less popular sports but in finals at peak times – there were more empty seats than spectators at Wimbledon for Murray and Robson’s thrilling Mixed Doubles semi-final win – is the self-righteousness of MPs and journalists who patronisingly make the point that there are bigger global problems than empty seats. Of course there are. Is anyone saying we should stop doing anything about global warming? No, but it’s understandable to be angry having spent hours in online ticketing queues without success while some people have got their tickets for free but not even made the effort to turn up.

Maybe if LOCOG hadn’t been led by Lord Coe but someone like Danny Boyle who made sure people in every part of the UK felt represented in his inspirational opening ceremony and I’m sure would have truly made it a people’s games, there wouldn’t be anyone complaining because there would be nothing to complain about. As it is, it’s been an excellent spectacle with some brilliant moments that I’m sure will inspire some young people (even if the impact on healthy lifestyles is balanced out slightly by the excessive promotion of McDonalds and Coca Cola) if spoilt somewhat by the fact that outstanding facilities like the basketball stadium will be demolished and that there will be far less affordable housing in Hackney and Newham than there was pre-Olympics. Not to mention the way it’s been used to speed up gentrification of the area, pricing thousands on housing benefit out of the capital. That’s something I haven’t heard anyone deny, hence why they resort to 'Why are you anti-British/anti-Olympics? – just enjoy the spectacle!” etc.

It’s not as clear-cut as some would have you believe ie. you’re not either pro-Olympics or anti, and the divergent backgrounds of British athletes should not be the cause for concern Mail journalists see it as in the 21st century but instead celebrated. Anyway, I’ll stop and let you get back to the weightlifting or gymnastics I’m sure you’ve been enjoying. Let’s hope this week is as exciting as the first and as fruitful for Team GB (and for Italy, a respectable 6th overall so far). If the Closing Ceremony is half as good as the Opening Ceremony was, we’re in for another treat.

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