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Home > Culture and Society

The London Olympics: Doing it for the kids

8 July 2005

'We're all just grinning like idiots here!'

- BBC London News presenter


Such has been the mindless enthusiasm for the London Olympics, it's easy to get a bit paranoid and imagine that if you express the slightest criticism you'll be dragged off to a Pol Pot-style re-education camp. A camp where Tessa Jowell will beat you with a big stick until you finally break and mumble 'I'm backing the bid... I'm backing the bid....' But what possible criticism could there be? On the face of it, the Olympics are a good and positive thing. They will bring urban regeneration to the shithole which is Stratford, in the form of building projects, jobs and tourist revenue. There will even be an affordable house-building programme to house the people doing the new jobs the Olympics will bring.

But there are still some questions to be raised. What becomes of the stadia after the Olympics? We've been here before with the Millennium Dome. It's also worth noting that the house-building programme is just 3,000 new homes to house 9,000 workers. OK, the Olympics aren't going to solve London's housing problem, but will the overall expenditure be worth it? More importantly, is all the rabid enthusiasm overtaking any serious discussion of what the benefits are likely to be?

It does seem that enthusiasm is considered a valid substitute for a coherent argument when it comes to the Olympics. If you watched the bid coverage, you'll have noticed an obviously orchestrated PR ploy to claim, with little evidence, that the Olympics are vital to the well-being of the dreaded Young People. 'I've always wanted to get more young people into sport,' said Seb Coe, leader of Britain's bid. This point was echoed by Ken Livingstone, who said: 'What came over in our presentation is [that it's] about giving kids the chance. It's not about cities, it's about the kids.' Even former tennis star and BBC TV presenter Sue Barker, who is presumably meant to be objective in her role as a BBC employee, chipped in with: 'It's the kids who are going to be the real winners!' Tony Blair was at least a bit more specific, saying that the Olympics would create new sports facilities that would benefit the 'health and fitness' of youngsters and, more bizarrely, increase 'their responsibility as citizens'.

But the most idiotic comment about da kidz came from the useless Tessa Jowell, who said: 'I had 30 schoolchildren sitting here... I said "How many of you are going to go for gold medals? And they all put their hands up!"' What the bloody hell are all these people talking about? At a very simple level, extra sports facilities will benefit Young People - if they live near them. But if the issue is Young People getting enough exercise, isn't that a national issue? (And shouldn't we stop selling off school playing fields to property developers?)

It's all a sleight of hand, not dissimilar to the way the BNP claimed they'd reduce traffic congestion by stopping immigration. Blair has insinuated that more sport will make Young People more responsible, disciplined and better citizens. What errant nonsense. 'Hey Lee, let's not go happy slapping, let's do a few laps of the pool!'

As for Tessa Jowell's comment - does she expect the UK to become a nation of professional sports people? Lest we forget, it's Jowell who's responsible for the equally daft idea of 24-hour licensing. It'd be great for the national GDP if we were all earning the same as David Beckham, but it ain't gonna happen. The fixation with sport is all the more tragic when the education system has more pressing issues, ie. crap levels of basic literacy and numeracy. Not only that, but isn't this sort of thing setting Young People up for a fall? It's great to play
sport, but the chances of actually making a career of it are very small indeed. It's like telling them they don't need to worry too much about exams or a realistic career, because they can always become a pop star instead.

This sort of clueless shit is bad enough, but the other irksome thing about the Olympics is the way it's assumed that none of us can wait for weeks of boring track and field events. Integral to this tedium are the athletes. Credit where credit's due, and all athletes have a level of dedication and determination that few of us could match. The problem is they're all so unlikeable. At best they're just a bit dull, at worst they're solipsistic sports robots who don't care about anything except shaving 0.01 seconds off their personal best.

And as the victory celebrations have shown, it also appears one of the main purposes of the Olympics is self-aggrandisement for yesterday's sportsmen and women, the great and the good, and politicians.

It speaks volumes that the rules surrounding the various Olympics bids have been tightened to prevent bribery by lobbyists. But while the Olympics may no longer be a gravy train in terms of bribery and expenses-paid overseas jaunts, they're still a fantastic chance to big up yourself . If he wasn't heading the Olympic bid, what exactly would Lord Coe (formerly MP for Falmouth, who lost his seat some years back) be doing? Opening leisure centres, probably.

There's a lot not to love about the London Olympics. But hey, think of the kids. And Tessa Jowell with a big stick.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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