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7 August 2021

The Non-Olympics (2)

Tag(s): Sport, History, Foreign Affairs, Politics & Economics
The bidding process for the 2012 Summer Olympics was highly involved and very close. Originally nine cities submitted bids to host: Havana, Istanbul, Leipzig, London, Madrid, Moscow, New York City, Paris and Rio de Janeiro. The IOC after its technical evaluation reduced this to five: London, Madrid, Moscow, New York and Paris. Paris was widely seen as the favourite, particularly as this was its third bid in recent years. Initially London was seen as lagging behind Paris by a considerable margin. The position began to improve after the appointment of Lord Coe as the new chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). On 6 July 2005 the final selection was announced at the 117th IOC Session in Singapore. In the final round London and Paris were indeed close contenders and London won that round with 54 votes to 50. There was widespread celebration in London, but it was short lived as less than 24 hours later there were the terrorist bombings on London’s transport system.

I later learned from the permanent secretary of a major department of government that no one had done any detailed planning of the costs of hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics. Instead, there were scribbling on the back of envelopes and fingers in the air projections. London 2012 went over budget by 76% in real terms, measured from bid to completion. The cost per each individual athlete was $1.4 million and that is only sports -related costs, not the wider costs for urban and transport infrastructure.

In the building of infrastructure there was much emphasis on developing the Olympic Park as a contributor to new business. Instead, hundreds of businesses were actually closed and very few new ones were created.[i] It was a similar story when it came to the vision for the Games. There was a lot of emphasis as summarised in the slogan for the games “Inspiration for the Future” and the hope was that young people would be indeed inspired by what they saw to take up particular sports. But no preparation was made for this and indeed some young people were inspired by what they saw but when they turned up at cycling or rowing clubs or whatever it may be, no one had prepared for the training that would need to take place and so the young people gave up and went back to their videogames.

It was announced before the Games that half of all competitors would be tested for drugs, with 150 scientists set to take 6000 samples between the start of the Games and the end of the Paralympic Games. Every competitor who won a medal was also tested. 32 medals were later stripped due to doping violations, 15 of which were originally awarded to Russian athletes.

Everyone remembers the opening ceremony and particularly the James Bond sequence involving the Queen. The peak viewing audience was over 27 million in the UK but while enjoying the appearance of the Queen, Daniel Craig, Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean and some of the music, particularly Sir Paul McCartney performing “Hey Jude” as the closing act, quite what the nurses were all about was beyond me at the time.

There’s no question that there were some splendid performances and I thoroughly enjoyed Super Saturday when Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all won gold for Great Britain in an unforgettable 44 minutes inside the Olympic Stadium. But the cost of the Games both directly and indirectly as so many businesses were disrupted is really questionable and as I have said the legacy that was promised in winning the bid in Singapore has simply not been delivered.

The 2016 Summer Olympics were held in Rio Janeiro actually in their winter. It was the first time the Olympics were held in South America. United States topped the medal table, winning the most gold medals (46) and the highest number of medals overall (121). Great Britain finished second with 27 golds and 67 overall, and became the first country in modern Olympic history to increase its tally of medals in the Olympiad immediately after being host nation. Bahrain, Fiji, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Tajikstan, and Vietnam each won their first gold medals.

As an aspect of its bid, Rio’s organising committee planned focus on sustainability and environmental protection as a theme of the 2016 Games, going on to call them "A Green Games for a Blue Planet". As legacy projects, organisers intended to introduce a wide array of public transport options particularly in the favelas, upgrade Rio’s sewer system to remediate the level of pollution, and plant 24 million seedlings to offset the expected carbon emissions at the Games. However, some of these projects met with delays or were not supported financially, leading many to believe that Rio would not be able to accomplish them.

And then we come to 2020 which, of course, has turned into 2021. The Japanese had a great success hosting the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964, demonstrating to the world that they had fully rehabilitated themselves after the horrors of World War II. On this occasion, while not needing to make that kind of demonstration, nevertheless the Japanese hoped that after their very slow economic progress in the recent past that the Games might be a way to kickstart something more like what they were achieving back in the 1970s and 1980s.

It hasn’t worked out that way. The pandemic which, of course, has been so disruptive in so many ways has been particularly disruptive in first of all leading the Games to be postponed by a year and then having to make decisions that all the nice new stadia they built for the Games would be largely empty. The Games are going on at the same time as Tokyo is in a state of emergency owing to the pandemic and to a very slow vaccination rate. Surveys show that 75% or more of the local population did not want the Games to take place, fearing that with so many thousands of athletes coming from all over the world including countries that are particularly badly affected that the Games would instead become a massive super spreader. It’s too early to know if that is the case. My own reaction to this situation is that these Olympic Games should have been cancelled, not postponed for a year and then to be held when things were not really very much better, if at all.

It seems remarkable to me that if the general population does not want something to happen that it can still happen and that the decision for it to go ahead was not taken by the Japanese government but by the IOC. Of course, its principal concern is not for the athletes but rather for the sponsors and the problems they would have if the Games did not take place, with inevitable claims from sponsors for compensation. One of the IOC officials said that it did not matter that the public would not be allowed into the stadia as the vast majority of people watch the Games anyway on television. Well, I have a message for him. This particular individual is not watching the Games on television at all.  I would normally, as I have explained in these blogs, but on this occasion I have lost all interest as I think the wrong thing is happening. It is happening because the wrong priorities are emphasised by the organisers of the Games. In the past there has been evidence of considerable corruption among members of the IOC. I have no evidence that is still the case, but I can see, as in many other sports today, that money, particularly from sponsorship and from television rights, is taking precedence over other important issues of sport.

Although it doesn’t affect me as I’m not watching the television, my understanding is that the BBC coverage has been substantially reduced versus its usual thousands of hours across multiple channels. Instead, the IOC has sold the rights for European broadcasters to a U.S.-based company, Discovery, who then sublicense the rights on a limited basis to individual markets. This has meant that at any one time only two sports are being covered, so indeed those people who unlike me have stayed loyal to the Games and wanted to watch their particular favourites in their favourite sports have on several occasions been unable to do so. That will do real damage to one of the purposes of the Olympic Games which is to showcase as many sports as possible and encourage interest in them by young people.

I am sure that many sports lovers don’t see it the way I do and will be enjoying some outstanding performances by sportsmen and women in a whole variety of sports, nor do I deny the extraordinary efforts of these individual athletes in reaching the heights they do. It is not their fault that their sports are so badly governed.

I am not watching any live coverage or highlights but obviously I cannot avoid the news and so do know that Great Britain continue to do well, but we seem to be competing with the Russian Olympic Committee. Russia was banned from the Games for its dismal record in preventing doping, but the athletes are still all there. Another questionable decision by the IOC.

And a final gripe. Why Team GB and not Team UK? Well, actually both would be wrong as the BOA says that officially “Team GB is the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Olympic Team”. Great Britain and Northern Ireland make up the UK, but Team GB also represents athletes from the Crown Dependencies  which are not part of the UK.  To explain further why the name was chosen,  the BOA previously put out a statement ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics which said: “Neither ‘UK’ nor ‘GB’ accurately describes the BOA’s remit nor would they be representative of all the territories that fall under the BOA’s jurisdiction.”

Well, in that case they should have come up with another name. How would Lady Mary Peters LG, CH, DBE, DStJ, one of the most distinguished athletes to come from Northern Ireland, have felt competing under the Team GB name?

[i] I covered this story more fully in my blog Smoked Salmon 28th July, 2018
While not attending the Games in person, I did take my family to see the site, and we enjoyed our day out. It was only later that I learnt what this had all cost.

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