XXXth Olympiads of the Modern Era, 9th Olympiads of the Big Business Era?

Olympics Musings 3
 In 1948, Britain functioned with post WWII rationing, so the fact that the medals were made mostly out of cardboard was par for the course. In 2012, Britain, along with a large chunk of the planet, finds itself in its worst economic situation since 1929, or so the pundits say, and the current estimate is that achieving each of its to date 57 medals cost the country close to five million pounds (and yes, the maths is more than likely to have changed before the end of tomorrow.)

The cost-per-medal discussion is one I remember after Sydney’s terrific 20 golds in 2000, with our wonderful hosts (second nature for Aussies, but still, the Huxleys opened their house for two weeks to an invasion, which included this Pom-French couple they’d met at a wedding five years previously…) pondering the cost of school and community sport in comparison. I’m going to move swiftly on from that precise value-for-money analysis and just pause to note what a fantastic sporting result Great Britain and Northern Ireland (still no further forward on this…) has achieved, even before the end of the games, heavy-duy lottery funding and home advantage notwithstanding.

What I want to focus on more here is what Games we want to be paying for, and how much. Given that we are clearly incapable of thinking sensibly about what we can afford (football finances, anyone?), let’s think of what we truly want to spend. It has already been pointed out to me that comparing London 1948 with London 2012 is pretty meaningless, as the former were just before television installed itself firmly in our living rooms. Fair point, but, one billion dollars shelled out by NBC for Olympics coverage rights? And incidentally, a 6 000 strong media team mobilised, yes, six thou-sand! they could have invaded the Channel Islands, if they’d had a mind to. Anyway, the big-money low for me at London 2012 was the price tag of £15, £30 or £50, for what was branded as a bronze, silver or gold photo you could have of yourself, carrying the torch, posing next to I don’t know whom. I think anything relating to “the Olympics enthuse the local community” or “share in the spirit of sport” kind of got lost there. Happily, I can report there was NO queue there.

I think that the worst of the current economic mess is that we are totally inured to crazy numbers, like the ones just above. Whenever I timidly try to point that the financial figures attached to something seem bewilderingly huge, I am usually either treated to a discourse on the (arguable but, to my mind, usually highly illogical) mechanics of the industry in question, or given a rueful and increasingly frequent “I know, it’s crazy!” answer.

Let me link that up to the wider sustainability question of the Games. I think that the wind turbines in the Olympic Park and the recycling bins at all venues are a very neat reflection of how far most of us (I include myself) are prepared to act sustainably: agonising over buying a (second) car, justifying the purchase of a new fridge before the old one falls apart, because it’s got an A+ environment friendly tag. And that’s it.

Yes, we’re a long way from the sort of Games brave/nutty (depending where you stand) Indignados or people in transition communities would approve. Unfortunately, this is a much tougher and more complex question than I can address here. (This last sentence is a pure writing ploy: I haven’t the beginning of a clue of how to address the economic, environmental and social mess we’re in. Perhaps we could commission flavour-of-the-month Martians to help us out. Little green men, take note, we never really took to communism, unbridled liberalism’s no good either, and we don’t want anything to do with slavery, so you’re not using those charming camp-operating people in Leighton Buzzard as a model, OK?)

That whole rights issue nonsense

This is getting ridiculous. It started with a problem that never was, ie the reports pre-Games that spectators wearing or otherwise ostentatiously consuming Nike or Pepsi stuff would be refused entry, on the grounds that Adidas and Coca-Cola would feel the terms of their megabucks deals had been infringed. Well, either people took note and revised their gear or it was a silly season story. BUT the reality is every bit as bad as that story, which I can illustrate with two annoyances, which are symptomatic of the whole rights management thing, again, as above, one of those Big Difficult Things.

One, the magazine with lots of glittery stickers and fuzzy felt and bits of coloured cardboard that drives Richard mad on environmental grounds, but which I love on it-keeps-Emma-constructively-occupied-for-at-least-an-hour-at-a-time grounds, had a July issue, which was sports-themed. Sports, not Olympics. Because if the five rings design, the word London, next to 2012, or the word Olympics had appeared in it, the publisher would have had to pay what it obviously considered was too high a fee. So, educate the kids about the benefits of sport, by using the fantastic opportunity of arguably THE leading sporting event in the world being on your doorstep, yes, please do, but you gotta pay. Lots.

Two, I thought ahead of what I would like as an Olympic souvenir, to try and stop myself wanting everything when I got there, and I settled on a London 2012 themed iPhone cover. And before you say, what a trivial thing, I leave you with this thought: what are you going to do with your Wenlock mascot after the Games? Richard shook his head over my clearly brilliant idea, saying “Samsung is a partner.” “Yeah, and?” sez I. “They don’t make iPhones”. Obvious. So far, I’ve found an obscure website in goodness knows where that’ll sell me 20 iPhone covers with THAT London 2012 logo for one dollar something apiece. Certainly, no such covers were available at the Megastore in the Olympics Park, at the Olympics Store in St Pancras, at John Lewis in Milton Keynes (but l fell for the tea towel and the Team GB biscuit tin, with Union flag stamped butter biscuits inside, which went down very well at my office – they’re certainly not too chauvinistic to sample food).

The little things – London welcomes the world, avec un français excellent

Wearing a tricolore flag meant I got quite a few of “Allez les bleus” and “Bonjour la France”, which was lovely, and I thanked each of my greeters, en français, bien sûr. Welcoming words were delivered in, I have to say, often perfect French. Actually, this was rather symptomatic of what we suspected was a large proportion of home counties people among the volunteers and spectators (judging for instance by the kids’ names in the families sitting next to us. I know, I know, I’m an inverted snob.) People’s games? Well, let’s say we heard more “you know?” in interviews with “deserving young people from disadvantaged local communities” than in the venues.

Anyway, the French in the signs, during bilingual announcements etc., was impeccable. I know it’s an IOC rule, but still, London definitely beat Sydney there: I remember someone said then that she was damned if she was going to say anything in French during the opening ceremony. Also, “Snacks and Drinks” was translated  into “Snacks et Poissons” on a sign. LOL. True, nuclear explosions somewhere a lot closer to Oz than France a few years previously meant that diplomatic relations between the two countries were possibly still not optimal…

Photos: two volleyball ones at the top and handball at the bottom: Richard Wilkinson. Two middle beach volleyball ones: Hélène Wilkinson, given that our younger daughter had finally managed to fall asleep on her father…

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