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The Games Hurt London

The New York Times published this piece, 'The Games Hurt London', as a contribution to its Room for Debate on the Olympics. For other contributions to the debate go to Are The Olympics More Trouble Than They Are Worth?

Once the athletes have departed, London is likely to find that tourism has declined and that the Olympic stadiums are of limited public use, even as local sports facilities continue to close. Proponents say the Games will get Britons involved in sport, but we’re more likely to end up with a population even more obese than it was before the five-ring circus came to town.

The hundreds of millions of pounds taken from funds for the arts, children’s and community sports will not be returned. Instead, the budget — by some calculations already £24 billion — will expand with post-Olympics spending. The Olympics are an expensive distraction that sets dangerous precedents, coddling the elite and trampling the poor.

Britain will have moved further down the road to “demautocracy,” in which politicians unite to dismiss dissent as unpatriotic and in which extraordinary security measures, like deploying surveillance drones, mass security and electric fencing in cities, are considered normal. Parks appropriated for the Games will have suffered serious damage, and the precedents set by their seizure and Olympics planning exemptions will pave the way for future development.

Worsening inequality will have been reinforced by an unethical Olympic brand being associated with corporations accused of criminality and by a circus of elite athletes being used to develop sports consumerism. And let’s not forget the many Games promoters, politicians and members of the Olympic “family” who will travel in special traffic lanes and will be provided with luxury accommodation at public expense, at a time when vulnerable Britons face cuts.

Lying, well developed in proclaiming housing, jobs and environmental benefits for London 2012, will be more deeply embedded in public life as proponents call every change in East London an “improvement” and an Olympic legacy. The Olympics will accelerate the expansion of financial London eastward, while East Londoners will continue to be marginalized, just as the original East End owners and users of the Olympic Park were evicted in the name of developers’ profits.

London is already a “world city.” After the Games, it will remain one — but will be more divided.

Julian Cheyne is a former tenant of the Clays Lane estate, which was demolished to make way for the London Olympics.

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