London’s Olympic Sized Mess

The new main stadium, nearing completion, at London’s Olympic Park.

A strange unreality descends, once every four years, on some part of the globe, infecting its political leaders with fevered delusions and impossible visions.

This is, of course, the outcome of the modern day Olympic madness, a multi-billion dollar industry that while having obvious and enormous costs, seems strangely light on any positive outcomes or benefits (where do all the billions of dollars go???).

Much of the cost of the Olympics these days goes to corporate sponsorship, of course, but has anyone considered the irony of an event that is supposed to celebrate good health and physical achievement being sponsored by companies such as Coca-Cola, Cadbury’s, Heineken and McDonald’s?

While the ‘winners’ of the Olympics expenditures are unclear, the losers are all too obvious.  The local citizens of the city that hosts the games – the city that tried so hard, and spent so much money, to be chosen as the venue.

In the case of London and its 2012 Olympics, exact numbers are hard to obtain, and impossible to agree upon, because some costs are hidden or obscured – for example, how much of the cost of deploying 20,000 troops (many more than Britain has in Afghanistan) is to be publicly allocated to the Olympics, and how much just gets blended in with other non-Olympic related military spending?

It is also true that some of the costs involve creating new amenities and services with longer lasting benefits such as new roadways, accommodation, and stadiums; although it is also true that many times the new stadiums were not needed and end up either being closed down, or under used, or displacing other perfectly good stadiums which are closed down elsewhere instead.  And much of the ‘benefit’ of new housing seems to flow to private developers rather than to the public good.

The costs don’t only affect the city and the entire country, and don’t only also flow through to the gullible companies joining on the bandwagon as corporate sponsors.  If you should be as ill advised as to wish to attend an event, the costs of the tickets are sky-high.  More popular events have tickets ranging up to $1000 each, and the opening ceremony tickets go as high as $3000.

Surely the Olympics are the most expensive event of anything, anywhere in the world.

Another Olympic tradition is to have growing fears over nothing being ready in time for the Opening Ceremony.  Although each venue is chosen about seven years in advance of the event, somehow things invariably end up as a last minute frenzied race against time; in London’s case the greatest last minute concerns seem to be security related.

On Monday this week Britain’s Home Secretary assured Parliament that the private contractors hired to provide much of the security for the event were able to provide all the services they had contracted for.

A day later – and with barely ten days until the start of the Olympics, she was having to disclose that, actually, no, the private contractors were unable to get anywhere close to the level of manpower and services they had promised to deliver when accepting the contract, many years earlier.  Instead, a further 3,500 troops were being scrambled to fill in the gaps in what must surely be the most extraordinarily elaborate security exercise short of full war that Britain has ever engaged in.  As well as the 20,000 troops and however many private security contractors as can be hired, there will also be 10,000 police officers involved in Olympic security activities.

And, like so much security, much of it is utter nonsense.

Games attendees may have to spend as long as two hours waiting to go through security to get into the various events they have tickets for.  Just like at an airport, there are limits on the amount of liquids they can take in with them.  But, unlike airports, there other other restrictions too.

For example, although the weather in London rains much of the year at the best of times, and is expected to be unusually wet during the Olympics, there are restrictions on the size of umbrellas people can take with them.  Oh – and you can’t bring a ‘large hat’ with you, either.

There are also restrictions on bringing in ‘excessive food’ (presumably to force people to buy from McDonalds instead?).  There are also restrictions wearing clothing that displays political or commercial messages, and, most puzzling, you can’t bring in cameras with telephoto lenses.  Here’s an article listing some of the other restrictions, too.

But, while most ticket-holders will be enduring long lines and ridiculous lists of banned items, including of course all firearms and knives (again, just like at airports), members of the Sikh faith carrying religious daggers will be exempted from scrutiny and allowed to carry their knives, unscrutinized, into Olympic events.

Although this ostensibly is only to allow Sikh’s to carry their religious knives, who is to say that underneath the knife and underneath their clothing there isn’t also a gun or a bomb?  If they even need to go through a metal detector, and if the security screeners have been told not to touch their knives, how would anyone ever detect the presence of some other object underneath the knife?

Now we actually like Sikhs and see them as fellow fighters in the global war against Islamism, but it is also fair to concede that there unfortunately some well known cases of Sikh terrorism.

And how will people in Sikh costume prove they are bona fide (and peace loving) Sikhs, rather than Muslim terrorists in disguise?

There are other security measures that don’t directly impact on spectators.  Much has been said about the temporary siting of Rapier surface to air missile batteries in various parts of central London, with orders to shoot down any stray planes that threaten the safety of the Olympics.  But few people have pondered the implications of this.  If a plane is shot down over central London, where will it crash?  Hmmmm – in central London.  The cure is almost worse than the problem.

Wouldn’t it make sense to move these missile batteries further out of central London?

Meanwhile, the British police and security forces have been engaged in a frenzy of arresting all manner of people for fear they may be potential terrorists, with 100 people having recently been arrested on various non-terrorist charges as well as others on terrorist warrants.

Surely the Olympics are the most paranoid event of anywhere in the world.

Not everyone has been arrested.  Some have been let off with a warning, and enjoined to stop their illegal activities.  ‘Criminals’ who have avoided arrest – so far – have included

  • A butcher in Weymouth who was told he could not display his sausages in his store window in the shape of the Olympic rings.
  • A small village in Surrey that had planned to, but was prevented from, organizing a community event on its village green.  The offense?  Calling it an Olympicnic.
  • A cafe in Plymouth that offered a ‘Flaming Torch Breakfast Baguette’ on the day the Olympic torch was to pass through Plymouth was told it could not do so.
  • A florist in Stoke-on-Trent who had to take down a tissue paper Olympic rings display from her shop window.

Surely the Olympics are the most joyless and mean-minded event of anywhere in the world.

Talking about joyless, the average Londoner is unlikely to get any pleasure from the presence of the Olympics.  Transportation – in a city that always teeters on the edge of transportation crises – promises to become a nightmare, with Londoners being told to add an extra hour to most journey times during the Olympic period, and being exhorted to avoid unnecessary travel during the two weeks of the Olympics.

As for visitors, London’s perennially overstressed Heathrow Airport has been inflicting delays of up to 2 1/2 hours on normal visitors arriving and waiting to go through Immigration, during normal travel periods, in the last few months.  Much speculation surrounds how the airport will handle the rushes of visitors during the Olympic period, and although more Immigration staff are being deployed, there are credible fears that even 2 1/2 hours might seem like a minor delay during the congestion that will ensue.

Talking about congestion, special lanes have been marked out on major roads, with the lanes reserved only for the 80,000 privileged people who are either Olympic competitors or officials (plus sponsors and media), allowing them to smoothly travel through London as it pleases them.  As for the 8 million local residents and however many visitors, no-one seems to care about their convenience.

Surely the Olympics are the most elitist event of anywhere in the world.

As is always the case, not only are tickets outrageously priced, but every hotel for miles around has got in on the act, shooting their room rates sky high in the hope of cashing in on a bit of the Olympic madness.  But, usually, in the final analysis, many hotels end up with more empty rooms than normal due to their high prices discouraging all their normal guests – the most recent Olympics in Beijing in 2008 saw the city’s hotels have a lower occupancy rate during the Olympic month than in any previous month for some years previously.

Many individuals have also tried to cash in by renting out their houses to Olympic visitors, while the homeowners will do the sensible thing and flee the city (and possibly even the country) for the period of insanity around the Olympics.

Not only homeowners have been trying to cash in.  Here’s an interesting story of a taxi driver who is renting his taxi out as overnight accommodation, too.

Hotels in other parts of Britain and other parts of the world are offering sensible alternates – Olympics packages featuring a room with big screen television and some celebratory food/drink inclusions, suggesting people treat themselves to a much more pleasant Olympic watching experience.

These promotions hint at the ultimate in pleasant Olympic experiences.  Staying home and selectively watching only those events you wish, from the comfort of your favorite living room chair, and rather than staring from a great distance in a stadium to the event hundreds of yards away, getting high definition closeups and action replays and realtime commentaries all on your living room television.

Add it all up, and there’s only one possible conclusion.

Surely the Olympics are the most missable event of anything, anywhere in the world.

6 thoughts on “London’s Olympic Sized Mess”

  1. The real reason for the missiles:

    CAMERON: “No-one likes the idea of missiles on top of London flats – but we have to stop illegal use of Olympic car pool lanes somehow.” (courtesy of @dmreporter)

  2. Why can’t both the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics be held in fixed venues as opposed to moving from place to place every few years? To me, that would make more sense.

    1. I agree with you in theory – the problem is it would almost certainly be the United States which was the permanent host country, and quite a large proportion of the world would probably strongly object to that!

  3. David is dead right about this or any Olympics being something to miss. The unique human joy of witnessing the highest levels of physical achievement and resulting spiritual uplift once associated with the event vanished over time with our collective loss of innocence that began with the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack.

  4. David,

    GUESS WHAT!! My bank statement today carried a warning to all customers that due to Visa being a sponsor of the Games, it has been agreed that only Visa cards, and not, for instance, Mastercards, will be accepted inside the Olympic venue.

    Did you see that David? Can you BELIEVE it? Corporate sponsorship gone mad! currently my bank is pretty much focussed on Mastercard, hence this warning appears on all statements going out 🙂


  5. Pingback: More – Much More – Olympics Mess and Misery » The Travel Insider

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top

Free Weekly Emailed Newsletter

Usually weekly, since 2001, we publish a roundup of travel and travel related technology developments, and often a feature article too.

You’ll stay up to date with the latest and greatest (and cautioned about the worst) developments.  You’ll get information to help you choose and become a better informed traveler and consumer, how to best use new technologies, and at times, will learn of things that might entertain, amuse, annoy or even outrage you.

We’re very politically incorrect and love to point out the unrebutted hypocrisies and unfairnesses out there.

This is all entirely free (but you’re welcome to voluntarily contribute!), and should you wish to, easy to cancel.

We’re not about to spam you any which way and as you can see, we don’t ask for any information except your email address and how often you want to receive our newsletters.

Newsletter Signup - Welcome!

Thanks for choosing to receive our newsletters.  We hope you’ll enjoy them and become a long-term reader, and maybe on occasion, add comments and thoughts of your own to the newsletters and articles we publish.

We’ll send you a confirmation email some time in the next few days to confirm your email address, and when you reply to that, you’ll then be on the list.

All the very best for now, and welcome to the growing “Travel Insider family”.