The Olympics Minus One Day: Photos from the Frontline in Stratford, a set on Flickr.
So the Games are nearly upon us! I won’t be here in London, as I’ll be at the WOMAD festival in Wiltshire; that’s World of Music, Arts and Dance, the wonderful world music festival celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, where my wife has been running children’s workshops since 2002, and a whole crowd of us has a wonderful escape from the normal routine for four days.
However, I couldn’t leave without paying one more visit to the Olympic Park in Stratford to see how everything was proceeding with preparations for the Games, with just one day to go before the Opening Ceremony on Friday July 27. I last paid a visit three weeks ago — the photos can be seen here — and I had wondered whether security would be hectic.
The bad news, of course, is the same as ever. In the run up to the Games, we have been subjected to jingoism, militarism, the corporate tax evasion of the Games’ sponsors, the brand police patrolling up and down the land, the International Olympic Committee’s inflexibility and arrogance, the dubious “cleansing” of the Lea Valley, and the inexcusable decision by two successive governments to write blank cheques for the Games without even a proper audit.
However, the good news is that today, in Stratford, after I took the train to Whitechapel, and then cycled up to Stratford and then up to Leyton and around the back of the Olympic Park, paranoia was nowhere to be seen, the atmosphere was very relaxed, and the security people were polite. In fact, it resembled the biggest festival of all time, which, in many ways, is what it actually is. I was, of course, slightly perturbed to see so many soldiers and police on the streets, although it is their wage bill that disturbed me the most, and my abiding impression would be that the security industry remains a growth industry, with lots of black-clad bodybuilders buzzing around Stratford town centre like giant ants, even though G4S — stung by scandal — were nowhere to be seen.
Nevertheless, I’ll be happy to leave those who wanted London to win the bid for the Games on July 6, 2005, when I was cheering for Paris, to join the crowds and the security and the corporate brainwashing and the mediocre food and drink of the Games, with, hopefully, some decent athletes thrown into the mix, while I’m in Wiltshire watching some great musicians from around the world and hanging out in the backstage campsite, singing and playing guitar with friends, where there will be a minimal corporate presence, minimal security, and excellent food!
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Sam Said wrote:
Are you with or against the games?
Sam Said wrote:
on a seperate note, I was drafting a poem today and somehow your name made it in a line. keep up the good work
Thanks, Sam. I have nothing against athletes competing per se – although beating people at things doesn’t make the world a better place – but what appals me is the colossal expense, which appears not to be even audited, while the British people are being told that there’s no money, and severely disabled people with partners who earn more than £7,500 a year are having any financial assistance from the government stopped, to give just one example of what’s wrong.
Also, £9.3 billion – the lowest estimate for the cost of the Olympics – is over three times what the government “saved” by dropping all subsidies for students studying arts, humanities or the social sciences at universities in England – courses that now receive no government support whatsoever.
I also hate the lofty arrogance of the IOC, and its obsessive brand monitoring, smart at the nerve of the corporate sponsors to demand that they don’t pay any tax on their profits during the Games, and despise the excuses for jingoism and militarism on the part of the British government, but if there’s anything left over from that, then let the Games begin!
And today, as I mentioned, I was genuinely surprised that everything was so chilled-out and not confrontational and paranoid. I expected the latter.
Sam Said wrote:
Well hoping usain bolt, mo farah and team somalia to create some magic.
I wish the best to those competing, Sam, but it would really make sense for people to question the issues of money and power involved with the Games. The problem with sporting events, in general, is that they have become largely removed from having any political context, making them safe for governments. The people can be entertained, while not asking any questions.
Sam Said wrote:
I totally agree with you, is like all of sudden recession was no longer an issue! for once I saw Hounslow where I live being entertained.
Patricia Sheerin-Richman wrote:
It is a gigantic marketing platform for brands such as Coca Cola – and the military are there to protect those brands as well as continuing the war on terror. The police have somehow managed to summon up special powers to stop people speaking in public against The Games…and to think Britain used to be proud of its history of “soap-box” oratory!
Very good points, Patricia, although there’s a major dissent planned for Saturday in Victoria Park. We will see if we are allowed to complain, or if we are, instead, a corporate-owned police state. I’d be there if I was in London: http://counterolympicsnetwork.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/press-release-from-counter-olympics-network/
And yes, Sam, it is very much as though recession is no longer an issue, but it very much is. When the Olympics is over, I think we’ll see the true poverty of Britain under the Tories.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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