17 February 2011

Olympic Gold and Welsh Rust

The media revealed yesterday that the first event of the 2012 London Olympic Games will take place in Cardiff on July 25.

Some in Cardiff see the Olympics as wholly good. The games, they say, will bring jobs, investment and publicity to a region lacking in all three. Unfortunately, the record of previous Olympics speaks for itself.

When Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010, the city paid for the expenses by cutting public services and was left with a C$1 billion (£633 million) debt to boot. The £9.3 billion being spent on the Olympics is not benefiting Wales, and the economic benefits to England through construction is not an endorsement of the games but rather of the wisdom of government investment in job creation.

We can easily point to the recent experience of Newport in the Ryder Cup as evidence of our pessimism: no permanent jobs were created and the only lasting benefit to infrastructure has been the architecturally-dubious re-developed railway station. Tourism and hospitality workers in Cardiff may gain an extra shift of work - a crumb which nonetheless few will be in a position to refuse - but this scantly makes up for the £187 million cut from Wales' budget this year or the £300 million the country is under-funded by under the Barnet formula.

International attention to Cardiff from the Olympics, meanwhile, will prove to be the most engineered and artificial since the premiere of the Wales-based science-fiction series Torchwood. Not only totalitarian China in 2008 but relatively liberal Canada in 2010 used the police to ensure dissent was kept firmly out of camera shot. So too did South Africa in the 2010 World Cup, as riot police fired tear gas at striking security stewards while television journalists presented yet another in-depth report on the history of the vuvuzela. Workers, students and socialists will demonstrate together throughout the Olympics; but our pleas for fair treatment will be punctuated by the clack of swinging riot batons.

And we will be right to demonstrate, for there is scarcely a more worthless club of the work-shy wealthy than the International Olympic Committee. Under the leadership of Belgian noble Count Jacques Rogge, who succeeded the similarly-ennobled Francoist politician Don Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC has blessed the deepening of censorship in Beijing and the expansion of brothels in Athens prior to the 2004 games. No fewer than fifteen of the IOC's 111 members are aristocrats, well accustomed to spending the fruits of other peoples' labour to aggrandise themselves and indulge in idle hobbies.

Wales cannot accomodate such waste. If a hundred thousand people should come to Cardiff to watch the football match on July 25, how will we move them, with funding for public transport being cut and the bus system a privatised nightmare? How will we feed them, as the recession shutters restaurants and pubs around the city?

When the Olympic Games foster a spirit of international cooperation, as their high ideals proclaim, they can make a positive contribution. But even when these ideals are put on display, they are outshined by the glitz of conspicuous consumption. Wales already has good stadiums and good sport teams; what we need is jobs, homes, and a government that will spend society's resources to make more of the same.

See also “London 2012 Olympics: A big business spectacle”, The Socialist 20 May 2010

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