Do I hate the Olympics or not?

So the Olympics are now upon us, and the interwibbles are chocka with people having their five pence worth. Here’s mine:

Good things about the Olympics

Celebrating achievement is a good thing.

I know it’s something of a cliché to go on about how the Brits are all snide and self deprecating, but as sweeping statements about an entire nation go, it’s not totally off the mark. Celebrating genuine achievement is healthy, inspirational and should be encouraged, but we don’t do it enough. There is something awesome about watching someone do something that you couldn’t achieve in a million years, like watching a Cirque de Soleil performance. And there is something inherently watchable about any form of competition. Whether it’s watching a marathon or a game of pooh sticks, as a breed humans seem to enjoy the anticipation of waiting to see who or what is going to win.

Apparently it’s boosted the economy.

Supposedly for every pound spent we are getting 3 back, said the BBC yesterday morning. This sounds like a rather suspicious statistic to me, but I haven’t got anything like the time to research that fully. Suffice to say, if that’s actually a true reflection of the overall situation, as opposed to a grossly misrepresented and over-extrapolated statistic that is almost entirely void of meaning then that seems like a good thing.

It’s raised the profile of sport and fitness.

I’m not a sporty person. At school I embraced the self righteous defence of the clever nerdy kid who hated PE, thinking that anyone who actually enjoyed it was basically a dumb jock. (Even if I didn’t have the rather useful dumb jock moniker at my disposal back then.) I grew into a non sporty adult, and took ill advised pride in my inactivity. Then when I was about 27 I figured out that I was actually quite overweight. Not massively, but enough to realise that I really ought to do something about it before I hit my 30s and it started causing the kind of health problems which get rather tricky to fix. So I changed my eating habits, started exercising, and slowly but surely the excess weight came off. It was difficult, and at times I almost gave up and started piling pounds back on, but I’m basically not overweight any more. Hurrah! And with this comes the utterly predictable change of heart than maybe physical fitness is actually quite important after all, and perhaps for all the years I spent sneering at joggers and gym bunnies I was actually in the wrong. So, if this results in a bunch of other people thinking “Hey, sports and being active is fun and cool and maybe I’ll do some of that” and then get healthier, that would be a positive.

It’s channelled much needed funding into sports facilities around the country.

So having reached the conclusion that fitness and sports is important and worthwhile after all, I’m quite happy that some money has gone into improving the facilities that will enable our population to engage in said activities. The problem with money is that there is never enough of it, whoever you are, whatever you are trying to achieve. Sports centres in the UK had funding problems. Just as the arts, sciences, charities, education, health, defence, engineering, transport and pretty much anything else you care to name has funding problems. No one has enough, everyone wants more, and everyone has different priorities. So there will always be complaints that the money which went to one thing would have been better off going to another thing, there will never be a consensus on what is the most deserving of available funds, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. So, while I appreciate this is a very superficial way of looking at it, sports facilities needed some money, then they got some money. Yay.

Without them we wouldn’t have had Twenty Twelve.

Ok, I accept that the whole tone of Twenty Twelve is snide and self deprecating, which I decried earlier, but it does it so very, very well! Of course, for satire to flourish you need something to satirise, and I’m not saying getting great telly makes bad things ok. Without the ENRON crisis we’d have never have got The Smartest Guys in the Room and without the Deepwater Horizon disaster we wouldn’t have had the opening episode of The Newsroom (well, actually we probably would but about something else) but the world would probably have been a better place if those things hadn’t happened in the first place. Brilliant, thought provoking and insightful entertainment about something bad is a silver lining, that’s all. But as silver linings go, Twenty Twelve is as sparkly as it gets!

It’s brought people together.

Not all the people, and certainly not all of the time, but there are indisputably a lot of people who are really enjoying it all. There are tens of thousands of volunteers giving up their time to contribute to the running in one way or another, and seem to be relishing in the camaraderie, and the feeling of contributing to something greater than themselves. In addition there are millions more supporting and encouraging, watching in person or from home, who are eagerly anticipating the whole spectacle. Circling back to my first point, this is a major achievement, and achievements should be celebrated.

Bad things about the Olympics.

The sponsorship is appalling.

As above, I’m on board with raising the profile of sport, and from that the health of the nation. So sponsorship by the corporations who shoulder a substantial portion of the blame for the state of our Nation’s health seems utterly perverse. There is the extreme protection surrounding their exulted sponsor status, which has really got some backs up. (Although this has had some rather amusing results, such as the Boris Bikes, sponsored by Barclays not being allowed in the park, because Lloyds TSB are the official banking sponsor.) But then there’s some much nastier stuff, like the involvement of Dow Chemical, who are associated with the Bhopal 1984 Chemical spill disaster. Their sponsorship led to the resignation of a member of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012. Once upon a time the Olympics were about great amateurs coming together from all over the world to showcase sporting excellence. This now feels very overshadowed by corporate greed.


I couldn’t possibly better Stewart Lee on the subject of legislation regarding what you can and can’t say. The heavy handedness with which LOCOG have cracked down on who is and isn’t allowed to show official support is, well, not actually that surprising, but disappointing to say the least. It certainly seems a far cry from the spirit of togetherness they are meant to be promoting. Apparently there are columns of words, and if you use a given number of words from a given number of columns then you are infringing the something or other. Apparently this includes using the phrase. “London 2012.” They’ve appropriated an entire chunk of the space-time continuum, and I’m not ok with that! (It’s worth noting that I am not lumping #savethesurprise in with this, as I think that’s perfectly reasonable.)


One of the things that made Twenty Twelve so great was the feeling that this wasn’t actually that far from the truth. There were reports from people involved in the organisation and infrastructure that it was actually scarily prescient. I imagine this is how the Homeland Security in the US felt when they realised everything they were doing was being aired in 24. The BBC actually had a rather sweet little quiz a couple of weeks ago inviting participants to guess if a particular screw up was from the TV show or from real life. Now I appreciate that with an event of this magnitude some things will go wrong, and there’s a limit to what you can do about that, but there are suggestions of far more systemic failures which come down to the kind of penny-pinching and short sightedness that will reliably bite you on the bum and yet seem to have been ignored. Then yesterday there was the North Korea flag thing. A mistake so utterly basic you can entirely imagine the writers of Twenty Twelve dismissing it as “too obvious”. Seriously, did they not think to put someone with at least a GCSE in Geography in charge of the stuff with the potential to cause a major diplomatic incident? I mean, of all the countries to risk insulting, surely North Korea is up there with the ones you really don’t want to piss off if you value your life? And flag wise, it’s a fairly straightforward situation. It’s not like the episode of the West Wing with the Taiwanese flag which genuinely is a bit complex.


The whole damn thing has cost far too much money, and yet there still doesn’t seem to be enough. A couple of months ago they announced that the event would come in under budget despite being approximately 5 times more than they said it would cost back in 2005. Furthermore, given the vast quantities of both taxpayer money and corporate sponsorship going into the great Olympic machine, it seems very peculiar that they aren’t prepared to pay the 70,000 odd volunteers who will be “making the games.” I appreciate that the majority of these people volunteering are doing this because they enjoy the involvement and privilege associated with this experience, but ultimately they are working for a huge company for free. It’s not a public company and it’s not a charity. It exists to make the IOC a profit.


Games lanes are causing traffic chaos, and there does seem to have been some debate as to whether they were necessary in the first place, given that London already has priority bus lanes basically everywhere. The advice given to motorists has been confusing, and in places contradictory. Rather amusingly, it emerged a day after the games lane on the M4 opened, that no organisation was actually accepting responsibility for enforcing its exclusivity. Apparently the tube and trains are going to combust under the pressure, which is a delightful prospect, and then there are those announcements from the beloved Boris, which annoyed the London populous so much that the shared anger got its own hashtag. I’m lucky that I have the option of working from home for parts of the next 2 weeks, but there are plenty of people less fortunate in that respect. The get ahead of the games campaign has been telling us for months that we should all basically get out of the way, except that for many people that isn’t actually an option.

So am I on board or not?

At this point I’m now more or less inclined to get on the “it’s happening anyway so you might as well enjoy it” bandwagon, and there are some things I’d genuinely like to see. There’s not a great deal I can do about the stuff I find unpleasant or unethical, and sitting at home and enjoying the opening ceremony doesn’t invalidate my misgivings about everything else. And if the whole thing becomes unbearable I’ve got the complete Bablyon 5 boxset to work through!

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  1. Good piece, that summarises my position relatively well, though Jen and I are a bit more pro-Olympics than you by default, I think.

    On volunteers, though, no Games has ever paid those volunteers for that work. That’s a separate problem, of course, but not one of Locog’s making 🙂

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