This piece is part of our debate 'The Great British Summer?'.
I doubt I am quite what the police would expect of the typical Olympic protester. On Thursday morning, I will be gathering with friends from my local running club to cheer on a member of our team who has been picked to run with the official Olympic torch; only afterwards, on Friday, will I run with the unofficial Olympic Poverty torch, first made by activists for the Vancouver Games.
In our house, we have a copy of the official Panini Olympic sticker collection, which my eldest son has been filling with positive images of the various Olympic stadia, well-known athletes, and other images of tourist London. On Saturday, I will be a steward at the main anti-Olympic demonstration, organised by the Counter Olympics Network (CON).
I have no problem at all with the idea of international sport - and if David Rudisha breaks the world record in the men’s 800 metres final, as I hope he will, I will be thrilled for him. However, along with many others in the more than 50 community groups, unions and charities who back CON, I find the organisation and politics of the London Games objectionable.
At a time of extreme austerity, I object to the government subsidising the Games with £12 billion of public money, far more than is being raised from the sponsors. This is especially troubling when almost all of this has been spent on one giant stadium, and when (as Mark Perryman has pointed out on this site) we could have saved almost all this money by hosting the games at existing sports sites.
I object to the way the Games is being used to prettify companies, ranging from global polluters (BP, Dow Chemical, etc.), down to mundane providers of junk food (Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Cadbury).
The Games bring a security apparatus which changes London for the worse. This is not just the tens of thousands of private security guards, and the troops, but the deployment of helicopters, battleships, Euro-fighters, Olympic missiles stationed at six sites across London, and even the importation of bespoke crowd control devices such as the Long Range Acoustic Device (aka “sonic cannon”) - a device normally reserved for military occupations following international wars.
I dislike the way in which the Games is being used to reduce sporting participation, from the closure of much loved local services such as the Atherton swimming pool in Stratford, to the implied message from broadcasters that sport is something which only truly exceptionally people can be allowed to do – with the majority of us having no role in it but to watch “heroes” from a distance.
I object to the enclosure of much loved Green spaces – Leyton Marsh, Wanstead Flats…
And, above all, I dislike the way in which the Games is being used to misrepresent London before the eyes of the world. London is physically diminished by junking the well-known London Marathon route which covers much of inner South London in favour of a 5-lap circuit of central London, so that any overseas viewer who watches will never be more than 30 seconds away from a background of a familiar central London scene. London is politically diminished by the constant recycling of images (or, in the Mayor’s case, sounds) of a tiny number of unloved Conservative politicians.
On Friday, the Olympic Poverty Torch route starts at Stoke Newington’s Clissold Park at 2pm. On Saturday, the Counter Olympics Network demonstration starts at Mile End Park at 12. Every reader who is sceptical about the Games is welcome to join us.
David Renton is a barrister and will be a steward at the July 28th Counter Olympics Network demonstration. He is a keen runner, and blogs about running and the Olympics at https://livesrunning.wordpress.com.
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