As history has proved, the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics is just another which we will grow to regret
The answer, of course, is no. And it won’t be worth it for a long time to come. London 2012 has brought us a frightening set of problems that it’s almost impossible to decide where to begin. Originally expected to cost £2.4bn, the bill for this ‘smiley-faced sportstopia’ now stands at ten times that amount during what the government constantly reminds us are ‘tough economic times’. (Does anyone remember the unprecedented levels of cuts to our public sector?). This colossal overspend has been waved aside by LOCOG and the Olympics team as a one-off. Unsurprisingly, this is a wilful distortion of history: the 1976 Olympics took over 30 years to pay off; the 2004 Olympics went almost a hundred times over budget and contributed to Greece’s bankruptcy; and the 2010 Winter Olympics ended up costing $60bn against the estimated $1bn. As Ashok Kumar notes, the Games always leave their host cities with decades of debt which must then be repaid through public sector cuts and taxes that target the poorest and most vulnerable.
Overspending is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the most lucrative contracts for the Games were handed over to companies with appalling human rights records. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, a report published by Ethical Consumer revealed that HMRC had allowed the Olympic site to become a temporary tax haven, and that many of the sponsoring companies have subsidiaries in tax havens. It took an online petition, garnering over 23,000 signatures, before these companies decided to waive the tax break – but not before whimpering that they had never intended to avoid paying their taxes.
The Olympic Delivery Authority pledged to create jobs for the residents of the so-called Olympic boroughs, one of the main ‘selling points’ for hosting the Games. In reality, only a fifth of these went to local people; the rest, to foreign workers. The much-promised regeneration, another ‘selling point’, has also failed to deliver. For Newham, home of the Olympic Village, this process of regeneration resulted in the demolition of the Clays Lane Housing Co-op and the eviction of 450 residents. In Hackney, local residents were also evicted as the council sold off public land to private developers. This displacement of local residents, many of whom have lived in these areas for generations, is not limited to council policies. Landlords, too, began evicting tenants in order to cash in on short-term ‘Olympic lets’ with some rents yielding 15 times their typical rates. These practices of cleansing cities of their poor – there were calls in Cardiff to lock up the city’s homeless population and Brighton bore the transplantation of London’s homeless – are not unique to London 2012. A report published in 2007 by the UN-funded Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) concluded that, between 1988 and 2008, the Olympics have displaced more than two million people around the world and is one of the major causes of real estate inflation. Rio de Janeiro, scheduled to host the 2016 Olympics, has already witnessed the forced eviction of 6,000 favela residents resulting in street battles and the deaths of more than 30 residents. Last year alone, more than 170,000 people faced homelessness. In each of the host cities examined in the report, regeneration has resulted in the complete loss of community. When the crowds have gone home, what has remained is the devastation inflicted upon the poorest neighbourhoods and most marginalised communities.
As for those foreign workers, imported by British-registered companies seeking to exploit cheap labour, they have been made to stay in a slum camp just metres away from Stratford’s £486m stadium, often ten workers sharing one room, 25 of them sharing a single toilet and one shower between 75. As if this wasn’t enough, they were all made to sign gagging orders preventing them from talking to the media about these appalling conditions.
Last month, Statewatch published an analysis of how the OIympics have affected our civil liberties. In 2006, the government passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006. At the time, opposition parties and civil liberties groups said the powers were so broad they would give private contractors the right to forcibly enter people’s homes and seize materials. The official line was that the new law was aimed at preventing ‘over-commercialisation’ of the Games. Statewatch’s report highlights numerous cases in which this law has been used to limit freedom of expression, movement and assembly as well as the right to protest.
The history of the Olympics is really a narrative of crippling debt, dispossession, marginalisation and the erosion of basic civil liberties. What is really breathtaking is how it’s sold to the public: a carnival of national pride. It’s only a matter of time before we and our children bitterly regret the last two weeks.
Artwork by Raashid Riza
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