As the London 2012 Olympics approach, a campaign is born to give the voice to the majority of British people who stand to gain little from the games, funded by 11bn of taxpayers' money. Who are the real beneficiaries? How do the people occupy the Olympics?
This piece is part of our debate 'The Great British Summer?'.
We are now approaching the final 100 days before the London 2012 Olympic Games. While athletes make their final preparations, and construction continues apace, our campaign group Our Olympics prepares to make London 2012 the greatest act of civil disobedience of our time. Here’s why.
Firstly, we stand on the shoulders of giants, in terms of the historical role of the Olympics and non violent civil disobedience. The defining image of the 1968 Mexico Olympics[i] was not the winner of the 100m crossing the finishing line, or the furthest throw of a javelin, but the raised fists and bare feet of Tommie Smith and John Carlos: standing on the podium in a demonstration of black power and poverty in salute to the US civil rights movement. The anti-apartheid movement also successfully demonstrated over several Olympic years[ii] with boycotts and acts of civil disobedience to give voice to the plight of black and ‘coloured’ people in a racially segregated South Africa.
Whilst these movements were standing against racial apartheid, this campaign stands against economic apartheid, manifested by crushing austerity policies for the most vulnerable in our society, whilst the most powerful continue business as usual.
The cost of the Games in our successful bid in 2005 was £2.37bn[iii]. Today, it stands at £11bn[iv] in direct tax payer contributions. The figure has been reported as high as £24bn[v] if enabling projects such as Cross Rail are taken into consideration. These are vast sums. In a time when we are being told that the vital services and support of our welfare state should be rationed and removed, due to austerity – the extravagance of the London 2012 Olympics seems hypocritical to some and offensive to others.
Moving on, the corporate sponsor list of this Olympics reads like a who’s who of corporate mis-endeavour. The Olympics branded ‘the greenest ever’ is being sponsored by BP, who recently settled a $7.8bn lawsuit following one of the biggest oil spills in history[vi]. An Olympics said to promote a healthy active lifestyle for young and old, is being sponsored by McDonalds, a fast food chain partly responsible for our obesity epidemic. In fact, the world’s largest McDonalds is being built in the Olympic Park[vii]. The Paralympic Games, a source of great pride to the disabled community, is being sponsored by ATOS, the bain in the lives of many of our country’s physically disabled and mentally ill people as they undergo strenuous and stressful work assessments placing them back in the workforce, whilst being unfit to be there. Dow Chemicals, a corporation which has steadfastly refused to adequately compensate the victims of the Bhopal gas leak in India, are not only sponsoring this Olympics, but will have a wrap around banner – like a big corporate ribbon around the Olympic stadium. 10,000 people died when Dow subsidiary Union Carbide’s poorly maintained plant in Bhopal sent a toxic gas cloud across the town, and hundreds of thousands more suffer the after effects to this day. This deal has provoked Indian athletes to seek a vote to boycott the London 2012 Olympic Games in protest at the refusal of the International Olympic Committee or UK authorities to remove Dow from the sponsor list[viii].
Then there is the vast security network set up around the games. 23,000 G4S private security officers will be operating during the London 2012 Olympics[ix]. The same company recently won the contract to run a Lincolnshire police station[x] (this includes the custody suite and control centre) and are bidding on two other police authorities, the West Midlands and Surrey[xi].
What it begins to look like, to many sane, rational people is that this Games is in fact, a tax payer funded corporate ad campaign for some of the worst offending corporations in our world today.
Finally, there is the context in which the Games operates: the context of austerity. The Health & Social Care Bill, the Welfare Reform Bill, Workfare, all these vastly unpopular policies have been pushed through parliament on the basis of the context of austerity. The NHS Bill seeks to privatise the NHS by stealth, opening the door to (among other things) private healthcare providers to use up to 49% of NHS beds[xii]. Meanwhile, Circle, a private healthcare conglomerate is now running Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridgeshire[xiii]. Again, under the guise of ‘efficiency’ required in these ‘times of austerity’. Quite how it is more efficient to add a profit margin into the mix when providing public services, than simply to pay for the services themselves remains a complete mystery to anyone with a keen grasp of mathematics.
The Welfare Reform Bill means that any person diagnosed with a terminal disease and given a prognosis of more than six months is effectively classed as a Job Seeker. The BBC reported that the whole bill will save £290m next year. Security at the Games costs £533m. We are told we don’t have the money to afford to allow dying people to spend their final months free of financial concern, with their families and loved ones. Yet, we can afford to turn the city of London into a fortress this summer, with an aircraft carrier in the Thames, surface-to-air missiles at the ready and 4000 more military personnel on the ground than currently deployed in Afghanistan[xiv].
After all this, many families will not be able to afford a ticket to see the Olympics while they struggle with unemployment, flat or reduced wages and a rising cost of living. Those who can afford a ticket were shocked to discover that over half the tickets were not even open to the public who paid for the event in the first place[xv].
What will be the legacy of the Olympic Games? Well, its plan to promote active, healthy lifestyles amongst the children was killed off when Michael Gove cut the funding for the Schools Games pretty much from the point the curtain is called at the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games this summer[xvi]. Most of the Olympic buildings already have contracts signed for private interests to take over following the games, for purposes and prices unlikely to be attracting members of communities like Peckham or Brixton. We can however, create our own legacy from this Olympics. By reclaiming it, and providing a megaphone with which the critical issues of our time can be communicated to a government and a parliament, which has so far failed to hear our calls of protest.
For all these reasons, and more, we are making our stand at the London 2012 Olympic Games. This movement exists to give a voice to the voiceless, suffering majority in this country. People campaigning on any or none of the issues discussed in this article can go to our website (www.ourolympics.org) to post an event, demonstration or direct action. People can also view events posted by others and check what’s happening in their area. Already the events are coming in, and we are promoting them through social media platforms. This week, the Save Leyton Marsh campaign and Occupy London have stopped construction of the Basketball complex on the marsh for two days and counting, by erecting a camp on the site. Images from the site can be found at http://www.flickr.com/groups/leytonmarsh/ and the press release is published on our webpages.
A banner across the Leyton Marsh occupation site reads ‘This is just the beginning’. How right they are.