Radical Olympics: How The Olympics Suckered The Left

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph (an unlikely source I know).

By Andrew Gilligan


The London Olympics are the most Right-wing major event in Britain’s modern history. Billions of pounds are taken from poor and middle-income taxpayers and service users to build temples to a corporate and sporting elite. Democratic, grassroots sport is stripped of money to fund the most rarefied sport imaginable. The police and the state are turned into the enforcement arm of Coca-Cola. How did this event suddenly become the toast of the Left?

Corporations who make people fat and sick – or, in one case, actuallymaimed and killed them – are allowed to launder their images; the London Paralympics, in a detail you simply could not make up, are sponsored by Atos, the firm repeatedly accused of bullying disabled people off benefits. Meanwhile, the main sponsors – the people of Britain – are largely excluded from the event they paid for.

Not just the Games itself, but many other parts of their own city, are sealed off from them. Some of them are evicted and their houses destroyed; others find overnight and without warning that their homes are to be converted into military missile sites, so terrorist planes can be made to kill ordinary Londoners instead of Olympic luminaries. Protestors against any of this are arrested and detained on the flimsiest of pretexts. Almost every promise ever made by the organisers – from the budget to the ‘greenest games ever,’ from the number of jobs that will be created to the number of new houses that will be built – turns out to be false.

The Left should be up in arms about the Olympics, as should any democrat. But as it turns out, all it takes is a few nurses dancing round beds, some coloured lights spelling out the words NHS and we all go weak at the knees and collapse into the IOC’s embrace. Worse, actually: any criticism of the opening ceremony was described by one left-wing newspaper today as “extremist!

My favourite line was from the Guardian columnist Richard Williams who wrote: “Cameron and his gang will surely not dare to continue the dismemberment of the NHS after this.” Hmm. If dismemberment is indeed their intention, are they really going to be stopped by a sound and light show? This isn’t a new dawn for Britain. It’s a night’s entertainment.

I can’t quite decide whether this is a genuine Diana moment – when the public hysteria is real – or whether it is confined largely to the media. I’ve been there myself – I covered the Beijing Olympics and I know how contagious and seductive the cossetted, enclosed media atmosphere can be. That’s how you get reality drifts like Williams’. I’ve been out and about today outside the Olympic bubble and most people I’ve been talking to seem to be taking it a lot more calmly than the papers.

I’ve also had disappointingly few hate emails and tweets after my mixed review yesterday of the great event. One person objected to my gentle mockery of Shami Chakrabarti’s participation. I like Shami a lot, but someone who campaigns for human rights should never have allowed herself to be used to polish the image of an event with such a long record of trampling on human rights. The abuses in London, of course, are comparatively small – but only four years ago in Beijing, thousands of people were made homeless and entire areas starved of water for the duration of the Games so that the Olympic areas could look fresh and green.

Whatever the truth about the mood is, it will pass. I attended the Beijing opening ceremony, as it happens. I wrote some of the same sort of faintly overawed copy that we’re seeing in this weekend’s newspapers. I can’t remember very much about that night now.

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