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Who's Dieter kidding?

Professor in Economics at Oxford and advisor to the European Commission Dieter Helm has added his voice to the Armitt/Labour argument that infrastructure projects should follow the ‘ODA/Olympics’model. Writing in the Financial Times on 1st February 2013 he said:

Delivering infrastructure at scale, on time and on budget is not rocket science. The Olympics showed the way to do it: there was a hard deadline, few losers and government money. What is needed is a set of clear system plans, planning procedures that compensate losers, and brutal honesty about what it is going to cost and who is going to pay. We must stop fretting about government accounting rules and tinkering with project lists and get on with it. Otherwise we will be left on the international sidelines.

A few days later he received the following response:

Sir, Dieter Helm (Comment, February 2) writes that “delivering infrastructure at scale, on time and on budget is not rocket science. The Olympics showed the way to do it.” Which upward revision of the Olympic budgets was he referring to? Who’s he kidding?

Tony Blackburn, Great Kimble, Bucks, UK

Not, I fear, the TB of Radio One fame, but we might as well turn to such founts of wisdom when professors and government advisors are given space to spout this kind of rubbish in august publications like the FT.

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Deighton got 'inpirational' bonuses of £1.4m

@MatthewBeard reports 'Lord deighton got total bonuses over six years of £1.4m, includes max windfall of £700k for "inspiring a generation". coe salary £535k' - of course he didn't inspire a generation, sport participation in the target generation of 16 to 25 year olds went down.

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Watching the Olympics or sitting on the remote?

Inflation is a feature of Olympic Games. Not just in cost. Sochi’s Organising Committee chairman, Dmitry Chernyshenko, predicts a 17% rise in tv viewing figures to a total of 3.4billion viewers for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

So how does he get to this ridiculous figure? He starts with, of course, the ‘official figure’ from the last Winter Olympics, Vancouver, of ‘around 3billion’, and adds a hypothetical increase of 500million based on the supposition that ‘we are observing a trend of rising TV audience, so we can expect such figures’.

These absurd claims are regularly trotted out for every Olympic Games. Companion of Dishonour Coe claimed 4billion would watch the London Olympics opening ceremony. The Huffington Post demonstrates the inflationary ‘logic’ in its extrapolation of the numbers watching NBC’s primetime broadcast of the London Olympics, which averaged 31.1 million viewers. The HP then rounds this up to a total of ‘more than 219.4 million Americans’. This is seriously misleading as it suggests that more than two thirds of the USA’s population of 314,159,265 watched the London Olympics. Actually what It means is that somewhere in the region of 30 million Americans watched bits of the Olympics over and over again.

Sporting Intelligence points out that the most watched event in history was the Beijing opening ceremony with 984million viewers. Of course, one explanation for this enormous number is that China has an enormous population of around 1.3billion. Subtract the alleged (these figures are not based on the numbers of tvs switched on to a particular programme but speculation about the number in each household who may be watching) 842million Chinese veiwers infatuated with their own event and you are left with a not so impressive 142 odd million from the rest of the world. As very few of those Chinese viewers will bother to watch Sochi’s opening ceremony that 142million may be closer to the mark for Sochi’s opening ceremony.

If Dmitry and Coe are right with their grandiose assertions, then 3.5billion viewers would mean roughly half the world’s population of 7billion will be watching the Sochi Olympics. Given that 2.5billion people don’t even have access to a tv that would mean an audience of almost 80% of those with access to a tv. Even more absurdly it would mean hundreds of millions, billions, would be watching when they should be at work or asleep. It may well be that a few hundred million around the world will watch bits of the Sochi Olympics but even this has to be treated with caution. For the Chinese who watched the Beijing opening ceremony there are two different figures, 593million who watched the whole event and 842million who watched some of it, a difference of some 250million, roughly the population of Indonesia. That, of course, does not tell us anything about the whole or partial viewing activity of the other 142million non-Chinese. Given that the opening and closing ceremonies are the big draws the events themselves will attract much smaller audiences.

Of the few hundreds of millions who may watch the Sochi Olympics a fair number will just have sat on their remotes and switched on the Olympics by mistake.

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Sporting myths, winning and national pride

Forget about the importance of taking part. Rory McIlroy is in an uncomfortable position, on the horns of a dilemma. Should he play golf at Rio 2016 for the UK, apparently his preference, or Ireland? The Irish tried to help him make up his mind by offering to let him carry the flag, but this only seems to have added to the pressure so that now he may not play at all!

Of course, McIlroy will be a favourite for gold which, ironically, may not make his decision any easier. One athlete, Mhairi Spence, who didn't win found it so upsetting that she wanted to hide herself away. The World Champion Modern Pentathlete was one of the favourites for her event but everything fell apart during the show jumping session. Devastated by what happened she said: "For me, it was a disaster. I can't describe it in any other way. I felt it destroyed part of me." She was not alone, and it's nothing new. Back in Ancient Greece not to win did not bring honour it brought shame, athletes would pray for victory or death to avoid the disaster of coming second.

Out of the media spotlight there'll be more dark nights in Rio.

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A legacy of 'no clemency, no kindness'

It's just another very small, very local Olympics legacy story about an Olympic bridge, a second Olympic bridge, across the Hackney Cut canal. The other, the first bridge crossed the canal from the Gainsborough Primary School in Hackney Wick and was used by school children to get to their playing fields at Arena Fields on the east side of the canal. That is it was until the ODA built over the playing fields and demolished the bridge. The plan was to build a new bridge which would rob residents of Wick Village, already suffering from the loss of the green space opposite their estate and the monstrous Media Centre erected in its place, of their canalside open space. That argument continues.

A little further south another Olympic bridge, the second bridge, impinges on another local community, the Eton Mission Rowing Club. The Club had already lost land to the Olympic Compulsory Purchase Order, for the construction of the bridge to allow access to the Olympic Park, making it harder to carry on its activities. Now the LLDC plans to make life even more difficult with plans to construct a lift next to the bridge, taking even more land belonging to the Club.

The Rowing Club has suffered rowing blight since 2005 with new rowers reluctant to join as a result of the uncertainty created by the threat of compulsory purchase and the loss of space to carry on its activities. Now, after one hundred and twenty-eight years of existence Eye on the Park recently reported the Club is warning it faces extinction at the present site if these latest plans are adopted.

"If they shorten the space we have to work in even more," Club secretary Tim Hinchliff said, "we’d be a club that couldn’t store and maintain an eight, and take it to regattas. Well that’s not a rowing club is it? They either have to change what they are doing with that bridge, or they have to move us somewhere else."

It may seem a bitter irony that a rowing club should face such a catastrophe at the hands of a sporting mega event like London 2012. In reality there is nothing extraordinary about this. London 2012 closed children's playing fields at Draper's Field in Leyton and at Arena Fields opposite Hackney Wick and other playing fields at the former Eastway Sports Centre, demolished football pitches at East Marsh, cycling facilities at the Eastway Cycle Track, closed parks or reduced access at Woolwich, Wanstead Flats, Greenwich, Leyton Marsh, while big screens and other events meant much of Victoria Park was inaccessible to non-Olympics users. In the months running up to the Olympics Newham Council saw no contradiction in closing Stratford's only swimming pool and leisure centre.

In an emotional article back in 2011 the 'gentle author' of the Spitalfields Life Blog wrote:

'I cannot avoid saying that the members of the Eton Mission Rowing Club deserve better from the Olympic Authority than this shabby treatment.'

Robert Hall senior, a member of the club for sixty years was more outspoken:

“They have shown no clemency, no kindness, no thought for anyone else’s existence.”

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They're still playing the same mega event in Brazil - eviction

Eviction remains the name of the game in Brazil. It is reported that up to 20,000 people face eviction in Fortaleza, one of the cities where the 2014 World Cup is to be held.

Meanwhile at the Maracanã stadium complex in Rio, where controversy rages over plans to privatise the complex, the government is trying to evict indigenous people from the Aldeia Maracanã, a centuries old indigenous heritage site located in the Maracanã complex. Police surrounded the site on 12th January but then the authorities backed off for the time being. The government wants to turn the heritage site into a parking lot for the Maracanã stadium. Residents from a favela in the same area, Favela do Metro also suffered eviction to create a Maracanã parking lot in December 2010.

That's what you get with mega events, parking before people!

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Death and the Olympic City

There are many tales of the Olympic City, lies, dreams of wealth, and profligate living! And of course, death!

Another bizarre story which came my way some months ago was a tale, apparently told by a LOCOG insider, that a morgue was being prepared at Victoria Park, underground, in case a catastrophe of Olympian proportions overtook the Games. This seemed too fanciful to be true. I did run it past a journalist, who was sceptical, but heard no more.

UPDATE [In fact this may not be so fanciful - Wikipedia mentions that there was an air raid shelter near St Mark's Gate in the Park - 'An air raid shelter was built underground just inside St Marks Gate.' This was bombed in the war. Nevertheless the idea of underground spaces is not far fetched.]

Then today I was discussing the Basketball training arena at Leyton Marsh and the possibility that it might have had a dual purpose, as a morgue, as it had always seemed strange the ODA was so determined to build that very considerable structure in that location when there must have been any number of alternatives. It was barely used, had no windows and relied on external ventilation systems.

Out of the dark blue left field (wrong sport and mixed metaphors I know, but what the hell) one of the discussants, whom I had never met before and without any earlier mention of the subject, said he had been talking to someone in the ODA who had told him the ODA had plans for a morgue at Victoria Park, underground!


Every now and then life throws you a curved ball... (wrong bloody sport - again)

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Olympic venues threaten LVRPA's finances

The Lea Valley Regional Park Authority have discovered that being gifted a bunch of fancy Olympic venues may not be quite a such a great deal after all.

Extravagent facilities come with equally expensive rates liabilities - now, confronted with a potential £3.5m annual rates bill for the Velodrome/Eton Manor and White Water Centre, they are desperately seeking ways of avoiding having to pay up.

Appeals to the Valuation Office and transferring the properties into a special purpose trust have been mooted.

To illustrate the scale of the liabilities, it's a third of the LVRPA's total funding income of £11.5m, from the levy on local councils across London.

On top, the net operating losses of the venues are, possibly very optimistically, expected to be £715k a year, soaking up another 6% of the levy income.


The Olympic stadium - it's all Crystal clear

While they are trying to figure out what to do with their East London white elephant in Stratford the LLDC has 'ambitious' plans to get its hands on the summer athletics grand prix, usually held at that other place in South London, er Crystal Palace? So that's a two for the price of one legacy of white elephants then?

Then there is the 'exciting opportunity' to create another stadium type music venue in Stratford to compete with the Dome, Wembley, Hyde Park, QPR and heaven knows where else.

And of course there's football, still dragging its feet in the background. Remember Tessa Jowell saying back in 2009: "We don't need another football stadium, we have got Wembley"? How true! And of course, for athletics, Crystal Palace!

Back then the legacy was supposed to be guaranteed by the English Institute of Sport and the National Skills Academy for Sport and Leisure which we were told would be taking over the stadium. This was described as a "concentration of sporting organisations promoting excellence" which Jowell said would provide a "fantastic legacy" for the stadium. Who remembers them now?

Yes, it really was pretty fantastic.

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What? Now it's 'the largest new urban park for a century' - in the world?

The lie of the 'Largest new park in Europe' has now become so well established that the Press regularly restates it and other Legacy myths even when the Olympic authorities don't use the term. Both the Evening Standard and the Huffington PostUK have informed their readers that the Olympic Park will be the 'largest new urban park for a century'. No attempt is made by these publications to distinguish between the different definitions of the Park, the Olympic Park as a whole, which includes the housing, stadiums and other facilities, and the park or green space. It is the latter space that the ODA and others have successfully sold as this illusory 'Largest new park in Europe' not the Olympic Park as a whole to which these journalists refer. Now the journalists just call it 'the largest new urban park for a century' - what, in the whole world?

Maybe it is just naive to expect journalists to try to establish the facts. However, in this case even the LLDC doesn't make any claims about the size of the space, be it the Olympic Park as a whole or the green space, in its press release on the opening plans for the Park. The journalists just do it for them. A while ago I was told by Paul Brickell, Executive Director of Regeneration and Community Partnerships at the LLDC, that the Corporation is aware that the Northolt and Greenford Countryside Park is larger than the green space in the Olympic Park and is less than twenty years old. Of course this doesn't prevent the LLDC creating its own park mythology.

Once started lying just 'spins' out of control.

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