Tuesday, 24 July 2012

London Prepares

I think I'll make this my last post about the Olympics! (For now)

London prepares for the war games
It has not even begun, but a world record has already been set for the London 2012 Olympic games. The games, which begin on July 27, are the most corporatised, militarised and draconian Olympics of all time. Every day there are fresh stories that reveal that, to British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Olympic spirit means giving corporations and governments free reign to do what they like.
These have ranged from the obscene, such as placing high-velocity missiles on people's roofs without permission, to the ridiculous. The July 11 Daily Mail said: “Olympic chiefs have banned all 800 food retailers at the 40 Games venues across Britain from dishing up chips because of 'sponsorship obligations.'”  Olympics sponsor McDonald's, however, has kindly allowed other restaurants to sell chips on the condition they are served with fish. McDonald's has built a 3000 square foot building in the Olympic Park, which will be immediately demolished as soon as the Paralympic Games finish in September. Chicken and chips are not the only thing people will not be able to eat at the Olympics. The Independent said on July 12: “Food must not be in 'excessive amounts' ― yes to sandwiches, no to picnic hampers, which would not fit through the bag scanners anyway. Other banned items include: “Balls, rackets, frisbees or similar objects or projectiles, noisemakers such as hunting horns, air horns, klaxons, drums, vuvuzelas and whistles." Presumably, though, if McDonald's were to distribute a commemorative Olympic vuvuzela, it would be fine.
However, while there was much criticism of China in the lead up to the Beijing games in 2008, the London games are shaping up to be just as draconian, if not more so. The London games, for instance, have banned "any objects or clothing bearing political statements".Supporters of Tibetan independence may not have expected to be able to wave the Tibetan flag at the Beijing games, but they won't be able to at 2012 Olympics either. Flags of countries not participating in the games have been banned (except for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). South Sudanese and Kosovan flags are definitely out as well.
Seamus Milne pointed out in an opinion piece published in the July 12 Brisbane Times: “East London has become lock down London. The Olympics are the focus of Britain's largest security mobilisation since the Second World War. “Soldiers are already on the streets. About 13,500 are being deployed, more than in Afghanistan, along with tens of thousands of police and private security guards. “Drones will patrol the skies over the Olympic park, which is barricaded behind an 18-kilometre electrified fence and guarded with sonic weapons and 55 teams of attack dogs.”
       Games officials have taken steps to be seen to include homeless people.
For instance,300 people who have experienced homelessness were given an open mic showcase at the London 2012 festival.
However, the reality of the Olympics for homeless people has been less than positive. London Mayor Boris Johnson promised to wipe out rough sleeping by the start of the Olympics. But rather than providing cheap public housing, the City of London has used “enforcement measures”. The Argus reported on July 19 last year: “Homeless people are heading to Brighton and Hove to escape a purge of London’s streets ahead of the Olympics.”
BBC.co.uk reported on April 27 on the case of Nigel Beardsley, a homeless man living in a hostel. It said that he was told to move by Westminster City Council as it cleared the streets for the Olympics, or face losing benefits. Beardsley said he was told to move to Torquay with £1000 provided by the council for accommodation. Beardsley went on to say "to be moved out to make the streets clean for the Olympics is a massive insult. London life is all I know. I know very few people here in Devon." Beardsley said he knew of at least five people to whom this also had happened.
Far from what Johnson claims, there has been a huge rise in homelessness in London. An Inside Housing article on June 29 said: The number of people sleeping rough on the streets of London has increased 43 per cent in the last year. Figures released this morning from charity Broadway’s combined homelessness and information network database show the number of rough sleepers rose to 5678 in 2011/12. This was confirmed by Viv, a homeless person who told the website InvisiblePeople.tv: “It's not a lot less, there is more homelessness. But they've moved people into different areas, that's all. All they've done is move people from one area to another, just shifted the homeless … Most of them have gone to Victoria or London bridge.”
Despite all this, you might at least expect artists performing at the Olympics to be paid properly. But this is not always the case. Rhinegold.co.uk said on July 10: “A storm of protest from thousands of musicians continues to rage, following requests from the London 2012 Olympic Games (Locog) to perform unpaid at its surrounding events supposedly in return for good exposure ...” Deborah Annetts, the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ chief executive, said: “The argument that musicians should accept this deal 'for the exposure' I think is specious. Our view is that this is exploitation.” Songwriter and producer Jonathan Dodds said: “We are horrified to see that an official body organising a massive corporate and public event, backed by huge amounts of public funding, were conning performers into providing their services for free. “With the sort of money that’s being thrown at the Olympics, billions have been wasted while the budget to pay performing arts is just a fraction. It’s disgraceful that they have been ignored.”
Australian swimmers are also protesting against being underpaid. The July 10 Sydney Morning Herald said: “A new pay deal on the eve of the Games has triggered the stoush between the swimmers and their governing body, which could also drag in the federal government. “The dispute was sparked by a $10,000 lump sum payment from Swimming Australia to each member of the 47-member Olympic swim team, which was meant to be a pre-Games sweetener.” The head of the Swimmers Association, Daniel Kowalski, said this deal would “mean the majority of the swimmers on the Olympic team are going to have to try to support themselves on far less than minimum wage”. Gold medalists, who usually get lucrative sponsorship deal after they win, get an extra $35,000. Kowalski said: “These guys are getting paid in a lump sum twice a year and it's less than minimum wage … and for us that's simply not good enough.”
Undoubtedly, the Olympics will bring much joy to those participating and watching. But it has also left a trail of misery in its wake, the victims of which we should keep in mind as the gold medals are being handed out.   
 By Tim Dobson