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Who paid the price for the parade of ‘heroes’?

The Roman elite knew something about wooing the public with games and parades and their example has its modern imitators. Now that the Olympic ‘heroes’ have had their parade and the politicians have done their best to bask in their reflected ‘glory’ perhaps we can remember the cost of this spectacle to a population greater than that of Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city. The Beijing Olympics were the most destructive on record. According to the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions' Beijing report they resulted in the removal of one and a half million Chinese. While other human rights issues have been reported in the media this particular outrage passed almost unremarked by politicians, journalists and sports commentators alike during the Games.

The idea that it is acceptable to spend over £20 billion on a four week event and to denounce critics for suggesting otherwise is so staggering that it takes some getting used to. To kick one and a half million people out of their homes, often with accompanying brutality and in many cases without compensation, for this same idiotic purpose puts it in the same category as Stalin’s appalling aphorism, one death is a tragedy, a million a statistic.

Beijing is not unique. Evictions and cleansing cities of the poor to make way for the Olympics occurs in the ‘Free World’ just as in a one party state like China, as George Monbiot pointed out in London is getting into the Olympic Spirit. Barcelona, Athens, Atlanta all saw it as part of the Olympic dream to clear the streets of ‘undesirables’. Beijing followed their example and its special corrections operation added its large migrant worker population to the list of those in need of special care and relocation.

The athletes at the centre of this circus are happy to play to the gallery. Chris Hoy, hero of the cycle track, declared to the Evening Standard, "It will bring a different mood to the City, there is nothing like looking down on tens of thousands of smiling people lined up as far as the eye can see. Our success has touched so many people and I think they will want to get out and be part of it." Not all the readers were so convinced. One wrote “Thousands in the street? Are these people taking the day off work or were they bankers?”

What exactly is heroic about running around and throwing things remains a mystery. The same Chris Hoy declared his favourite memory of the Games was the shocked reaction of their main rivals, the French, when Team GB broke the world record in the heats for the team sprint. "You could see the deflation. That psychological blow set the tone for the whole week. We battered them into submission even before the final began." A truly heroic sentiment!

Heroism comes at a price and the price in this case was paid by hundreds of thousands of forgotten Chinese. The synthetic glory on parade in London wins praise from a predictable media hopping, like a fly in search of a feast, from one sensation to another. Shiny new buildings are presented as evidence of a newly civilised China while politicians like Ken Livingstone dismiss critics asserting that most Chinese aren’t bothered about government abuses of human rights. Well, that’s alright then.

It is astonishing that sportsmen and women think it acceptable that their tarnished medals should be won at such a cost. Little more can be expected of them than of the elites, the politicians, sports administrators, media managers and Olympic ‘idealists’ responsible for these circuses, who are happy for others to pay the price for their vainglory while they lecture their victims about the necessity of this foolishness. As Beijing’s eviction notice put it: “We hope you can fully understand the importance, necessity and seriousness of maintaining safety during the Olympics from a political and general standpoint, and therefore proactively comply with the Special Correction Operation.”

Just as in Rome a beguiled public cheered on the heroes. Perhaps creating some new Olympic events like say ‘Pin an eviction notice with a Javelin’, ‘Smash a home with a Hammer’ or ‘Steeplechase through a Demolition Site’ might open fans’ and athletes’ eyes alike. But then maybe not. After all, someone would win gold!

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