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We can still win the Olympics ... by hacking it back to size

For all the hype, there are no noticeable economic benefits to the Olympics. There may be some gain to smaller cities wanting to boost their world image, such as Atlanta and Barcelona. London has no such need and the IOC has priced small cities out of the market.

Regeneration applies only in so far as spending large amounts of taxpayers’ money increases activity for a while, like the building of a moon rocket. Montreal and Munich, which borrowed to finance their Games, were left with heavy debts. Athens saw its budget rise 10 times to £3.5 billion and the Greek government had to plead with Brussels for temporary relief. The Chinese for 2008 were blowing $35 billion at the last count, a mammoth cross-subsidy to their capital from some of the poorest people on earth. The Los Angeles Games are said to have made money by using existing facilities and being crudely commercial, for which wise decision they were much criticised.

London’s spending ran out of control after the nationalist hysteria that surrounded the winning of the Games. Not just politicians but the media lost all sense of proportion. Some 700 staff in Canary Wharf promptly began pushing the budget from £2.4 billion to any number they could imagine, even as high as £8 billion. There must be a point at which such sums pass beyond all reason for what should be a simple festival of sport.

To be fair, the £6 billion to £8 billion figure is full of fat. The regeneration of Stratford should never have been included. The £620m spent on land acquisition by the London Development Agency has cost an absurd £320m in overheads, not helped by 80 firms, 250 residents and 150 travellers refusing to budge and going for gold.

The tripling of the security budget “after 7/7” indicated total consultant capture. Nobody can stop another 7/7 and demanding almost £1 billion for three weeks’ security is more than is spent defending the green zone in Baghdad. It would be cheaper to give every athlete an armoured car and three bodyguards. If the Games are considered too dangerous to be staged in cities, they should be discontinued.

Most of the cost is going on flattering the ego of the IOC’s flatulent, self-perpetuating oligarchy. The demand for a special stadium (at £280m and growing) should be rejected at once. A 400m track with 80,000 seats is unusable afterwards because spectators are too far from the pitch (except for cricket). No former Olympic stadium is fit for any other purpose without massive rebuilding costs. Sydney’s is lying empty. The idea of reducing the 80,000 seats to 25,000 as an athletics venue is ingenious if extravagant, but why? London has an athletics venue at Crystal Palace which could be upgraded. Besides, there is no need for 80,000 seats except for the opening and closing extravaganzas and these could be held in the new Wembley.The other five structures at Stratford are not needed for British sport in the long term. London has 25 stadiums that could be adapted for cycling, hockey and gymnastics. Pools could be upgraded for swimming. Other world championships use existing facilities at a fraction of the Olympic costs.

As for the IOC’s 17,000 bed-space “village” within walking distance of the Games with full security, air conditioning and extra large baths, forget it. Earlier this month officials reportedly “demanded” that the 3,600 flats not be high rise lest “the competitors spend too much time waiting for lifts to get to their rooms”. Barcelona had to spend hundreds of millions of pounds making its Olympic village habitable for ordinary people. London has ample hotels spare for athletes and officials in August. It has no need of special trains or high-speed limousine lanes down the Mile End Road, an incitement to cockney riot. Olympic Games are television events rather than mass spectator sports. If the venues are dispersed, London’s transport can cope.

Extract from: We can still win the Olympics ... by hacking it back to size,Simon Jenkins, Sunday Times, 28 1 07

More at: Simon Jenkins

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