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Instead of disrupting a different city every four years
|Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2012 7:39 am
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Instead of disrupting a different city every four years, the Olympics should always be held in Athens
London Calling, the 1979 song by punk rock band The Clash, features in a British Airways television advert which is being broadcast at frequent intervals at the moment because the Olympics are almost upon us.
The airline has adopted this piece of music to remind people of its status as an 'official partner' of the British team. The advert shows one of their planes taxiing by road through London bringing supporters together before arriving at the Olympic park and ends with a call for people to stay in Britain under the strapline 'Donít Fly. Support Team GB and Paralympics GB.'
Someone obviously convinced BA that the song's urgent rhythm and repeated use of our capital city's name would capture brilliantly its association with this global event but on closer inspection the company appears to have been subjected to a bit of a confidence trick.
Anyone who dissects the lyrics will hear an overwhelmingly negative series of messages about social breakdown, police brutality, environmental doom and the threat of a nuclear accident, all of which are in keeping with The Clash's well-known anti-establishment stance. Surely these are not the things for which BA wants London to be known, even if some of these problems remain as real today as they were in the 1970s?
Those who have studied London Calling say its writers, Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, wanted to voice their genuinely held fears about the state of the world. Its minor key and short, stabbing guitar chords, perhaps reflect this.
Its lyrics certainly do.
The opening verse runs as follows:
"London calling to the faraway towns/Now war is declared and battle come down/London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard you boys and girls/London calling now don't look to us/Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust/London calling/see we ain't got no swing/'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing"
And the first chorus is:
"The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in/Meltdown expected the wheat is growing thin/Engines stop running but I have no fear/'Cause London is drowning and I live by the river."
Objective evidence describing what people who hear London Calling feel about it is obviously hard to come by but one news report certainly backs up the theory that BA's choice in fact alarms rather than encourages.
In April 2006, telephone salesman Harraj Mann, 23, was hauled off a London-bound plane by police at Durham Tees Valley Airport having asked the taxi driver who took him to the airport to play the song on the car stereo.
After hearing the line: "War is declared and battle come down" (see above) the driver grew suspicious that Mr Mann might be a terrorist and alerted the authorities.
Mr Mann, from Hartlepool, was questioned under the Terrorism Act and eventually released without charge. Arresting him may have been an over-reaction but it is proof that London Calling does not necessarily have the effect British Airways hopes to achieve.
In its own way, the folly of British Airways in choosing this song to show off its Olympic credentials reflects a belief held by many: that London is not the place where the 2012 Games should be staged.
Instead of the Olympics circus erecting its vast stadia at different points around the globe every four years, the Games should always be held in the same city, Athens, where the first modern Olympics took place in 1896 in recognition of the Ancient Greeks effectively inventing the Olympics after holding athletic competitions at Olympia from 776 BC.
Rather than imposing vast bills on taxpayers around the world every four years to build new sporting complexes whose future use cannot be guaranteed - and paying the same taxpayers back with little more than a series of Soviet-style travel restrictions - the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could rid hundreds of millions of people of the Olympic threat at a stroke.
Governments of competing nations could contribute a pre-arranged fee to Athens to help maintain and improve the permanent Olympics facilities which would be created there. Greece, a country which is failing, would have a national project of which it could be proud, and its economy could even go some way to recovering if it had a guaranteed income to look forward to, as long as it was monitored carefully.
Any profits from the Games would have to be ploughed back into Olympics-related activities in Greece and beyond, with Greece being paid a set fee for its work in hosting the event. Another happy by-product of this arrangement would - hopefully - be the end of all corruption surrounding the Olympics. No more stitch-ups, no more shady deals, no more palm-greasing. With the Olympics being held in the same place every four years, costly Olympics bids would become a thing of the past, leaving politicians to concentrate on the real work of running a country rather than schmoozing.
Anyone who disputes the importance of this practical idea should remember that in the case of London, scores of businesses and amenities have been forced out of areas where they have existed for many years to make way for the eye-wateringly expensive Games infrastructure. And who can forget the Manor Garden Allotments, established in 1900 by philanthropist Arthur Villiers to provide land for the poor so that they could grow their own vegetables? This precious site was torn up in 2007 to make way for the Olympic Park. Supposedly, at least, it will be reinstated after the Games, but why repeat this sort of exercise ad infinitum in future?
In 2005, British taxpayers were told they would have to underwrite the London Olympics to the tune of £2.4 billion. By 2007 this figure had ballooned to £9.3 billion. Only a brave gambler would bet against the final total (if it is ever revealed) being higher still. Remember, there was no public consultation regarding this expenditure and it will have to be met one day, no doubt long after the circus has moved on.
At a time of global economic uncertainty, what better way to cut costs than to establish an Olympics city?
Politicians and members of the IOC insist that parts of East London will be the richer for some of the Olympics being held there this summer and will be bequeathed a legacy in the form of facilities which can be treasured for years to come. The truth of that remains to be seen but by advancing this sort of justificatory argument they miss the point of the Games entirely. The Olympics is supposed to be a series of sporting contests, not a corporate jamboree masquerading as a social improvement project for allegedly First World nations.
Until the IOC stops inflicting the Games on different sets of people around the world every four years, and recognises that the single Olympics city option makes more sense from every perspective for everyone, the Olympics will carry on getting bigger and more expensive - and almost certainly less popular.
By Miles Goslett
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