Stadiums, Stadiums, Stadiums. Olympic Notes No3

Athens got some new ones. So did Sydney. Beijing got some terrific ones. Delhi got in on the act and threw up some impressive ones albeit with just days to spare. South Africa recently built or renovated ten of them. Dubai just can’t stop building them. London got a new one at Wembley and Cardiff got one to celebrate the new millennium. Now Liverpool FC have new owners, they also want a new one. After all, Manchester City have a relatively new one, as do Arsenal. And with the 2012 Olympics on the near horizon, London is currently building itself a whole lot more of them. You would be forgiven for thinking that building new sports stadiums was the answer to humanity’s problems. Everyone is at it. You can bet your last dollar that as we speak, Brazil is up to their necks in the damn things.

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Simon Jenkins- Bourgeois Londoner.

I love to read Simon Jenkins on the question of the much hyped Olympic legacy. Jenkins has from the very start consistently decried the mega stadium approach in favour of something more down to earth. I seem to recall his plea that we use our existing venues rather than create shiny new white elephants. On this I wholeheartedly applaud him. But his latest piece in the London Evening Standard  ‘Spend Olympic Money On Making London Beautiful’ 2/2/10, ( a newspaper now owned incidentally, lock, stock and barrel, by an ex KGB officer and now billionaire Russian Oligarch), is off the mark, though I do believe his intentions were honourable.

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Redgrave Tells It Like It Is – Or Does He?

Try as they might, Lord Coe and his team are struggling like mad to present a convincing case for a genuine Olympic legacy from London 2012. Matters were made worse when one of their own, a one Sir Steve Redgrave, broke ranks and offered a stinging attack on the government’s short-termism. Redgrave does not mince his words.

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‘ Blair starts race to find grassroots sports heroes’

Another Legacy Gimmick Once again they have got us jumping through hoops. This time it is to find, ‘the most imaginative (grassroots sports) projects across London and show them to the world’. Tony Blair, we learn, ‘called for the community heroes behind London’s amazing grassroots sports projects to come forward to be celebrated’. Olympic Legacy awards are, we are told, to be doled out in order to highlight the, ‘vital role of community sport’. Now would this be the same community sport that has been chronically under-funded by the Blair/Brown government for the past 12 years? Would he be referring to the community sports projects that often survive only through the paternalistic goodwill of some local charity? Might he be thinking of those thousands of sports projects that received a one off payment from the Awards-For-All Lottery funded scheme and then left to flounder for the rest of their days in financial penury? Once again we are back to one off gimmicks that flatter only to deceive. What London and indeed the entire United Kingdom desperately needs is a coordinated, long term, comprehensive grassroots funding scheme that provides financial stability so that the army of grassroots volunteers can get on with what they do best; coaching youngsters into sport rather than getting bogged down endlessly juggling the accounts. As for the concept of granting awards to the best projects or project organisers, I find this highly subjective and quite divisive. Who is to say which is the most important piece in a jigsaw? Clearly every piece is equally important. A large well funded, high profile club is not necessarily the one with the greatest input into the ill-defined world of social inclusion. And how do you measure these things anyway? Social cohesion by its very nature is a complex tapestry. Why attempt to award one project over another. Recognise the importance of social cohesion and promote all those who work in the area by creating a sustainable financial structure. Interesting to note that once a short list of five sporting heroes has been magically conjured up, the Evening Standard readers get to vote, X Factor style, for the winning entrant. So with London awash with disaffected youth finding solace in gang culture, all our beloved leaders can come up with is a celebrity style award for the person or project with the greatest wow factor. Thanks but no thanks! End JPK 29/05/09              

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 October 2012 12:24 )


Olympic Legacy: What a Joke!

I started day-dreaming about the legacy idea way back in the year 1999 when the then Blair Government was pontificating about a Millennium legacy. I dreamed of a National walking and cycling track that linked all the major population centres with all our wonderful national parks and our delightful seaside towns. Capital outlay would be minimal. Local job creation would be considerable and it would send all the right messages for the twenty first century; environmentally friendly, individually healthy, community orientated and spiritually uplifting.  Instead we got the vacuous Corporate Dome, corporately sponsored, individually mind numbing, community dumbing and spiritually alienating. It closed early to universal derision. To be fair, it told us exactly where the government’s priorities lay for the new century and they did not disappoint on that count: a national economy in hock to the City of London with all its speculative greed and avarice.

I still have that dream of a national walking and cycling track and it could so easily be the legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games. It could, in its initial stage be tailored to suit the London emphasis of the Games by becoming  a London Olympic path linking all the great parks and attractions within  the city with the existing Thames Path and Grand Union Canal towpaths upgraded to become its spine. Don’t worry. We don’t need to get bogged down with the details because it’s not going to happen. Instead we will get a gigantic new stadium that has no known use after 2012, a few unconnected gestures like free swimming for the pensioners. Worthy enough in itself, but hardly in the category of a lasting Olympic legacy. Many of these small scale gestures should be carried out anyway as a matter of course by the 33 London Boroughs as part of their provision for their respective residents.

No doubt there will be a half-hearted attempt to get the local communities to use the new Olympic stadia, but that will fail miserably. Those that are most in need of sports provision are those least likely to be marching into grandiose stadia. Our learned Olympic planners just don’t get it. In a city like London, if you are going to make a difference you have to start locally and I mean locally.

 As part of a real Olympic legacy every park in London could have a full time warden at the same status as the trendy new community police officers. At no capital outlay, the local recreation grounds, hitherto no go areas, come back into community use.

Every housing estate could get a new sports and community centre, well equipped and well staffed with local people and with a budget sufficient to keep it going without the need to attract outside commercially attractive customers. A central tenet of the Thatcherite/Blairite/ Brownite decades is that everything must pay its way. Everything must make a profit. That is the logic that the boroughs have been forced to adopt in their leisure centres and the end results are obvious. Those that can afford £50 per hour to use the main hall move in, while the local youngsters remain on the street.  

One of the most dispiriting features of modern London is the fear for teenagers of wandering into the wrong neighbourhood, the wrong territory. Parts of London have become akin to a war-torn, broken society, where warlords savagely protect ‘their’ territory. In London today a youngster can lose their life by accidentally crossing a gang demarcation line. For too many youngsters, street gangs have become their de-facto family and they will, partly out of fear and partly out of misguided loyalty, commit horrendous tribal brutality on those that are deemed outsiders. This is the real underbelly of what Londoners likes to pride themselves as a twenty four hour modern global metropolis. If the Olympic legacy is to have any meaning at all it must touch this reality.

And for those with the money it is increasingly the soulless fake security of their electronically gated communities. If that is community I want no part of it.

 To make any type of difference we need to start with a sober assessment of what three decades of unbridled finance capitalism has done to our  communities and it won’t be a pretty picture.  How prophetic when Thatcher declared that society does not exist. She was a true spokesperson for the times. Capitalism in its corporate, global stage has no need of society, nor for that matter of church, family and nation; the three institutions that kept us all firmly in our place. All capitalism now requires is individual, atomised, and alienated consumers. Seven billion of them to be precise. Each of us cut off from each other, each engaged in mindless consumerism to lessen the existential void, each of us living and dying alone. It isn’t that bleak yet for all of us, but give the corporate beast its head and that is where it will take us. We are even offered new cathedrals for this new age, one in West London blandly called Westfields and another, its sister, currently being constructed somewhere near the Olympic site. So we have learnt nothing from the millennium debacle. From a corporate dome devoid of human content to two giant corporate shopping malls equally devoid of meaningful human life.

And if we are really lucky we’ll get another swath of West London blighted by concrete, pollution and noise on a gigantium scale, affectionately termed the Third Heathrow Runway. Olympic legacy? Don’t make me laugh.

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 October 2012 12:24 )

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