Danny Bates asks “is another Olympics possible?”
I’m not against the Olympics. The Olympic ideal of celebrating excellent achievement – in sport, arts and culture – is important. Unfortunately the 2012 London Games falls far from this ideal. So, as a longstanding resident of an Olympic Borough (Hackney), I’ll be joining the march against the corporate Olympics on Saturday 28 July precisely because the Olympics could be so much more, and because it has failed people so badly.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be positive about. As Green London Assembly Member Darren Johnson pointed out the construction work has been described as ‘exemplary’ by the Commission for Sustainable London 2012.
The main stadium is especially lightweight, made with reused gas piping, the stands in the Aquatic centre have been redesigned to save 475 tonnes of steel, and there has been a radical reduction in the carbon footprint of building all the stadiums, roads, energy infrastructure – compared to conventional construction.
But maybe being ‘the greenest games ever’ isn’t so hard given that the highest green benchmark was Sydney 2000, and green practice has progressed hugely in the last 12 years. That said, Greens on the London Assembly and others have pushed hard for a greener, fairer games from the start – and not without some success.
The Fairtrade Foundation, too, has a positive story They calculate that millions of Fairtrade bananas and cups of tea and coffee will be consumed, amounting to a Fairtrade premium of £100,000.
Playfair 2012, the trade union-led campaign for a sweatshop-free Olympics, has been in dialogue with LOCOG since 2005. Playfair acknowledges that London2012 has gone further than any other Games but they do insist that more still needs to be done to involve workers and monitor supply chains. The Living Wage campaign has also had success, with hotel sponsor Holiday Inn now paying a Living Wage.
Of course, this progress wouldn’t have happened without dedicated campaigners, and they are some of the real heroes of London2012.
Community resistance and civic pride
Although there’s been real public enthusiasm for the torch relay, communities in East London have been opposing Olympic or Olympic-related developments which were trashing their local areas. Civic pride and local community activity are important for those who have fought some of the Olympic developments.
The Save Leyton Marsh campaign in Waltham Forest wanted to stop a basketball training facility being built on their local green space. Having lost the space to the Olympics they now campaign to have the area returned to functioning green space as soon as possible. There are doubts that this will happen. To add insult to injury, that campaign now has to foot a £20,000 bill, having lost it’s Judicial Review against Waltham Forest Council. A campaign to save East Marsh on the Hackney/Waltham Forest border failed to protect scarce and highly valued local amenity space from being turned into a coach park.
These are just two examples of how communities have been forced to oppose the Olympics simply because they value their local areas.
Putting high velocity missiles on Fred Wigg Tower in Leyton and the Lexington Building in Bow have quite understandably got local residents ‘up in arms’ (no pun intended), and taken East London community antipathy to new levels.
Some say the Olympics inevitably means ‘some losers’ – but if the Olympic process rides roughshod over the wishes of local communities, then it’s also the Olympics itself which loses – in terms of public support, positive image and goodwill.
There are now probably as many anti-Olympics campaign groups as Olympic sporting events. Headline sponsors, who are entitled to a special Olympics tax break, will be making many millions whilst communities in East London are feeling cheated, marginalised and violated. Trademarking has meant that the democratic space to oppose the Olympics has been restricted, with at least one case of a Twitter account being shut down. In asking ‘Corporate Olympics or peoples’ Olympics?’ it’s not hard to answer that question.
Is another Olympics possible?
It doesn’t have to be like this. The Olympics should be about ideals, so let’s strive for some. I’d like to see an affordable Olympics with people and community at it’s heart.
The cost of a more inclusive event might mean a less extravagant Games, with fewer, less dominant corporate sponsors. It may take longer, harder thinking to accommodate coach parks and training facilities in a way which respects communities’ local amenities and open spaces. It would need to recognise that militarising peoples homes shouldn’t be part of the game-plan.
Maybe in a future Olympics we’ll all be able to have gold. But no medals this time.
Danny Bates is an Officer of Hackney Green Party and London Green Party. He works for Jean Lambert MEP as her London Constituency Co-ordinator.