Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

Olympics: The circus is coming to town

The London 2012 Olympics are hurdling towards us at break neck cost, not just to our taxes but, it would seem, increasingly to our civil liberties. Don't get me wrong. Although I am not usually a sports fan, I do appreciate people's willingness to see the fastest people in the world running around really fast, the strongest lifting weights, and I admit that I actually do enjoy the odd moment of seeing someone who is really good at something aesthetically pleasing, like gymnastics or, of course, Greco-Roman wrestling. Who doesn't? More importantly, it's nice to see the international community coming together for something that isn't violently inhumane (see: almost all of earth's history). However, it would seem short-sighted not to take note of any potentially negative side effects. First, let's look at what is most easily quantifiable - the financial cost. According to some reports, the original 2005 forecasted cost of £2.4bn has increased tenfold to a frightening £24bn and counting. Even though in 2005 they may not have predicted the economy worsening as it has, that is still a worrying miscalculation. With hindsight, it is easy to see, given the dismantling of the NHS for instance, that the money could have been spent more wisely and I do seem to remember a lot of us saying this when we were bidding to hold the games in the first place. But at least this summer, for a few short weeks, people in hospital will be able to watch a load of people running in circles in an over-priced stadium on the telly - assuming, of course, they can afford to pay for the privilege of having a TV in their hospital room. More frightening still is the fact that our authorities, so keen to make these games a PR success, have taken extreme and alarming measures to discourage any criticism of the events being seen by the international community. Laws have been passed allowing police and other 'enforcement officers' to forcibly enter people's homes and remove any poster displayed which criticises the event or its sponsors. The right to free protest has effectively been legally suspended for the duration of the events, and the undisclosed numbers of thousands of private security guards - initial figures were 10,000 but unconfirmed reports say that has at least doubled - will be backed by 13,500 military personnel and 1,000 American agents, including 500 from the FBI, not to mention the spy drones which will hover above, the surface-to-air missiles on the ground, the biometric ID cards, the facial recognition scanners, the 11-mile electric fence, the extra CCTV network and, look, a great big aircraft carrier docked on the Thames. This could be argued as wise, but that wouldn't make it any less frightening and again makes me question why we are having these games at all, if we are so much under threat of attack. The security market, which loves events like these, must have rubbed their hands in glee when they saw the chaotic riots last year because they knew they could capitalise on this, adding to the many threats since 9/11 that have helped them become so powerful. Local businesses, on the other hand, are suffering - some stifled by the security checks, many forcibly evicted to make space for this corporate spectacle. Over 40 businesses are currently trying to sue over loss of earnings caused by traffic congestion alone. I doubt the list of corporate sponsors for the games, which includes McDonalds, Coca Cola, BP, Atos and Dow Chemical, will want to pay any of those damages. My personal feelings about large spectacles like this are that I prefer local events anyway. I much prefer to see a band in a pub than at a really big stadium gig on telly. I suppose if I wanted to see people running really far, I'd go and sit in the park and loudly cheer the joggers on, or loiter at bus stops. It's not my place to tell people what to enjoy, but it is my place to complain when the effects of said enjoyment are ruining my enjoyment of a free society. I hope that after it's all over things can get back to normal, but I worry that if there is any trouble, contractors will use it as an argument to have yet firmer long-term security checks, and that if there is no trouble that this will also be an argument for the success of their actions. Either way they can support the idea that our civil liberties are a problem, not a goal in society. )

Next article in issue 50

Just stop it!

Serves 3-4. Ingredients: 200g of strong bread flour (around 12% protein is best) Dried instant yeast Soya mince Tomato passata Vegetables…

More articles