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London 2012 bars Games Monitor from Net Impact debate

London 2012 has always claimed it has ‘an agenda of inclusion’ and wants to hear what members of the community have to say. Back in January I was invited by an organisation called Net Impact London Professionals to speak at a debate which will be held on 14th March 2012 entitled ‘After the 2012 Olympics: Legacy and Regeneration’. I had never heard of them before and was told ‘Net Impact is a global volunteer-led organisation which seeks to explore and promote business to create a sustainable world.’

In its invitation Net Impact had said: ‘you may be willing to highlight some important aspects of the sustainability London 2012 legacy.' I didn’t understand what they meant by this and was confused as they had already said I had been recommended by someone who they knew was a critic of London 2012.

So I had responded saying:

‘I am slightly puzzled by your invitation 'you may be willing to highlight some important aspects of the sustainability London 2012 legacy'. I am not sure I would be able to do this. I am not a great believer in the sustainability of the London 2012 legacy.’

I was immediately reassured:

‘The event will be in the form of a debate, so we definitely want to host speakers who are able to present arguments to challenge the London 2012 sustainability legacy.’

I was told there would be ‘at least two speakers from each side of the debate’ and a vote on whether ‘London 2012 will leave a sustainability legacy for the local and international community’.

So, being a public spirited sort of person and up for an argument I said ‘yes’!

Then lo and behold a few weeks later I got another email. I had been asked for a bio which I had failed to send, as I hadn’t much idea of what to say, so I assumed they were chasing me for this.

But no! Net Impact had been impacted by London 2012 as I was informed in a roundabout sort of way:

‘Dear Julian,

Many thanks for agreeing to participate in our event, and apologies for the delayed response.

We are now beginning to promote our event, which will be held at The Hub Westminster on Wednesday 14th March.

However, I must apologise and advise you that our speaker from London 2012 was not willing to speak during our debate if a representative from Games Monitor was also on the panel.’

Whoops! What was that? Yes, I was being uninvited at the insistence of London 2012. Well that was an honour! London 2012 didn’t want to share a platform with a member of the Clays Lane community, who had been evicted to make way for the great project and thus had firsthand experience of some of its more negative impacts and was now writing for a critical website.

Instead I was invited ‘to speak for a few minutes from the floor’ as I was assured Games Monitor had ‘pertinent comments to raise with regards the sustainability legacy of the London 2012 Olympics,’ which after all was presumably why I had been invited to debate the subject in the first place. I was also offered the possibility of a ‘blog post on the Net Impact London Professional website on your thoughts about the issue of London 2012's sustainability legacy after the event.’

I can’t say I was greatly inspired by either of these offers. If Net Impact had allowed itself to be bowled over by London 2012 who knew what the debate’s chair would allow or what their blog would accept. I told them I would write a comment on the matter. Net Impact immediately responded:

‘If you could hold your comments until the day after our event (15th March), we can ensure that we have a representative from London 2012 at our event to address this.

If you reveal your comments beforehand, we will likely not have London 2012 present at our event.’

I replied that I would make no promises on that score and they then said they hoped to hear whether I would accept their offer of a free pass to the event, along with a colleague, as soon as possible.

I responded:

‘I have to point out that you invited me to speak and, unlike London 2012, I haven't placed any conditions on my attendance. This is straightforward censorship. London 2012 is a publicly funded body yet it is using its muscle to blackmail you into not inviting me or anyone from Games Monitor to be on the panel. The Olympics is a publicly funded project and a proper appreciation requires that it face criticism. London 2012 is unwilling or unable to face that.’

Net Impact remained committed to its decision:

‘We are a voluntary group, and also feel that the terms placed upon us by London 2012 are difficult.

However, we do feel that the issue of the sustainability of London 2012 can be better challenged if we have London 2012 representatives and actors at our event.’

But obviously not if Games Monitor or I were on the panel.

For all of London 2012’s rhetoric about inclusion and participation this is par for the course and is not the first time I have experienced censorship at its hands. Indeed London 2012 has now developed its methodology and outsourced the practice. Likewise another Olympic stakeholder, Tfl, decided it could not allow unfettered comment from me in an arts project in which the artist was kind and naïve enough to involve me. She had apparently been led to believe that she could include critical comment. It ended in similar fashion with a missive from on high saying my participation was not desirable.

So what is London 2012 so afraid of? The Olympics has almost unlimited funding and the backing of the political system at all levels including all political parties, national, city and local governments as well as every quango in the country. Yet it can’t handle a debate with an Olympics evictee who writes for a critical website!

I was in no rush to comment. I decided I would not attend and would wait until Net Impact published its programme. It hadn’t told me who else was invited until I received its uninvite email. At that time it seemed London 2012 had not formally accepted, possibly because it was waiting to see if Net Impact would conform to its demand that the execrable individual be dropped from the panel. It would be outrageous for London 2012 to pull out after forcing Net Impact to uninvite a panellist and after it had been advertised as a participant just because its manipulation had been revealed. Either way I thought it was entirely reasonable for me to comment prior to the event.

So, to return to Net Impact’s hope that ‘the issue of the sustainability of London 2012 can be better challenged’ if London 2012 representatives attend. Plainly there is a problem here. London 2012 has already set the terms of the ‘challenge’ by barring a participant. I recently attended a seminar by a speaker from the OPLC which was simply embarrassing in, to put it kindly, its inaccuracy. That speaker, who remembered me from an earlier encounter, was also unhappy at my attendance and asked if I was studying at the school. When I said no he seemed to think I should not have been allowed in until the professor assured him it was an open meeting and anyone could attend.

But what of the challenge? I had a look at the new panel which is supposed to have ‘at least two speakers from each side of the debate’. I take it that, as with most debates, ‘each side’ means one in favour and opposed, a ‘pro’ team and an ‘anti’ team.

The panel includes two present or former London 2012 personnel, Felicity Hartnett, ODA Sustainability Partnerships Manager, and Richard Jackson, former ODA Principal Sustainability Manager, who I assume are the pro team. I did meet Mr Jackson, along with Mr Waterman, ODA Head of Health and Safety, back in May 2008 when I was invited to a meeting after I wrote a comment on the London 2012 blog about the ODA's failure to contain dust from the site. I don’t think that comment ever actually made it on to the Blog as I can’t locate it now. So it wasn't as if I was unwilling to meet London 2012 representatives face to face. This is not to suggest Mr Jackson has anything to do with this decision as he no longer works for the ODA.

On the other side, so to speak, are Samantha Heath of London Sustainability Exchange and David Smith of London Citizens. I have never met nor heard Samantha Heath or David Smith speak and I have no idea which of them ‘replaced’ me so I cannot say how different this debate will be. I had a quick look at the respective websites of London Citizens and London Sustainability Exchange to see what that might tell me.

Mr Smith is London Citizens’ Tower Hamlets organiser and therefore, I assume, part of TELCO, the East London branch of London Citizens, which has been campaigning on a number of issues around the Olympics including housing, jobs and the living wage. Its website says: ‘TELCO leaders have been meeting with Olympics officials regularly. It has been a very fruitful relationship.’ On the other hand, back in 2011 Mr Smith made some strong remarks about both Johnson and Coe at the time of the rerouting of the marathon, referring to a “breach of covenant” and saying “there are vested interested with politics and organised money that’s setting the West End agenda.”

Ms Heath is CEO of London Sustainability Exchange, which recently held a joint event with Heart of the City and The City of London Corporation called Bringing the Olympics to Business: Playing Your Part. The website for this event proclaimed: ‘You do not need to be an official sponsor of the Olympics to get involved in its magic!’ London Sustainability Exchange’s website also says it ‘has been involved with London 2012 since the beginning of the bid and was a member of the Environment Advisory Group that shaped the environmental chapter of the Candidate File’ and is ‘supporting the delivery’ of the Games. It is also participating in the London 2012 Forum which is designed to ‘act as a channel for sharing ideas and increasing participation. It was set up to inform, engage and enthuse Londoners.’

These sometimes eulogistic comments from the organisations represented in the opposition or ‘anti’ team suggest the critical voice may be slightly more muted.

But what sort of challenge was Net Impact really hoping for anyway? It had said it hoped for ‘a lively, but constructive debate at our event on the sustainability legacy of London 2012.’ So maybe the word ‘anti’ does not actually feature in their concept of debate.

Constructive? Why constructive? I would argue the claims made for legacy are simply untrue. It is difficult to be constructive about that.

Challenging? I wish them well. London 2012 needs to be challenged.

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