Between 27 July and 12 August 2012 more than 10,500 athletes from over 200 countries will participate in the 30th modern Olympic Games in London. With the total cost currently estimated at £9.3 billion, two politicians, two activists and one academic speak to Ian Sinclair about the short-term effects and long-term legacy of the world’s largest sporting event on the local community, London and the nation.
Hugh Robertson MP
Minister for Sport and the Olympics
With just two years until the Olympic Games there are already clear benefits being felt across London and the UK.
Tens of thousands of jobs have been created and kept alive by the Olympics in London and the companies across Britain supplying nuts, bolts, planks and pylons to the Olympic site. In fact, 98 per cent of the contracts awarded to build the Games have gone to British companies, half of them based outside London, and worth over £5 billion.
This trend will continue long after the Games have finished when the site will become one of the largest new urban parks in Europe creating tens of thousands of jobs, housing and community facilities.
But the greatest legacy of all will be to inspire a new generation of people to take up sport. We have already backed this by creating an Olympic-style school sport competition and increasing Lottery funding for sport by about £50 million a year from 2012. We’ve also asked sport to sign up to a voluntary code that will see a third of the cash they get from selling broadcast rights go to grassroots sport.
London 2012 has already benefited every part of the UK and the power of its wake will continue to be felt long after the Olympic and Paralympics flames die out.
Former resident of Clays Lane Peabody Estate in east London, which was demolished to make way for the Olympic site
The 2012 Olympics have been sold as the means to regenerate east London for the benefit of local people. However, there already was a £4 billion redevelopment project at Stratford City, creating over 5000 homes and 35,000 jobs, which didn’t involve any demolitions or displacements.
At its heart the Olympics is a massive land grab. Businesses, which were already selling land for housing development which was then brought to a halt, were removed with a loss to the area of 5000, mainly industrial, jobs. As in Docklands, where local unemployment went up, post 2012 jobs will be high tech ‘clean’ jobs aimed at the new richer population moving in to the new housing.
Land and house prices are likely to rise after 2012 as this former industrial land is sold at development prices to cover the cost of acquiring the land for the Olympics. It will be more expensive to live in Stratford as social and private rents will rise in line with market values.
The Olympics required the demolition of two estates housing 1000 people to make way for facilities for the Athletes’ Village. There is no legacy from the Athletes’ Village as the housing was to be built anyway as part of Stratford City. The fate of the Clays Lane estate is a harbinger of things to come. Residents were left on average around £50 a week worse off and their community was demolished.
Dr Gordon T Mellor
Head of Department of Physical Education & Sport Studies, University of Bedfordshire
The demands in hosting the modern Olympics have changed markedly since London’s last experience. Today, in recognition of the massive financial responsibility involved in staging them and in keeping with the notion of accountability to those who pay, a legacy is required.
The 2008 London 2012 Tracking Research reports… the public believe that whilst the 2012 Olympics will be delivered appropriately and that competition facilities will be built, far fewer are convinced that the cultural, environmental or social legacy will meet the promises made.
Hosting a world celebration such as a modern Olympic Games is without doubt a risk for any city and the nation that it represents. Failure to deliver anything other than a truly excellent Games would mean a loss of face that would be a national disgrace.
However, the benefits of success are also enormous: for a short time London will be the focus of the entire world’s media. Britain will project its own cultural message, define its own aspirations and perform on its own stage (or in its own sports stadium). The ‘feel good’ factor in terms of domestic political gain is well understood, while the extensive regeneration and smartening up of some of London should have an enduring effect.
Whatever the risks, the costs and the work ahead, the potential gains, both national and political, are tantalising.
The question ‘How might one influence Olympic development and Legacy?’ rests on a self deception.
The London 2012 Olympics, protected by brand enclosures and built by dirty capital, is an exercise in simulation. Desire and the imaginary are channelled through the Olympic corporate machine and reconfigured en route.
Citizenship is refashioned towards a developmental model, subjectivity harnessed as ‘technology’. Child labour stalks its souvenirs. While McDonald’s gears up to train 70,000 volunteers and the disabled compete to integrate values of ‘personal best’ and ‘excellence’ into their lives, the East End is reinforced as a post-colonial encounter.
‘Flexploitation’ appears implicit as a principle of employment in both Development and Legacy phases. The strictures of ‘Best Value’ have precluded the London Living Wage.
The city itself will witness a mobilisation of military proportions.
Locally, there seems little impetus to make much ‘difference’. A socialised conception of disparity and uneven development informs an acceptance of Olympic rhetoric and proposals. Opportunism and managerialism alike search for ‘opportunity’. The new Legacy company works hard to scale down expectations. Economic development is revealed as an elite project, engineering marginal increments of restructuring.
In many ways, this is similar to the Gramscian notion of ‘passive revolution’. But in east London, there is no failure of hegemony to define the instance, no counter to seduce workers from.
Green Party Member of the London Assembly
It’s hard to be sure yet whether or not the 2012 Games will live up to the aim of leaving a valuable legacy. The master plan for the legacy will be published in the next month or so, and until that is available we just can’t know how many promises will be honoured.
We don’t know if they will build the kit to supply everyone later with zero carbon energy from sustainable sources. The Games period will barely manage 20 per cent.
We can’t know if it will actually be nicer, easier and cheaper to walk, cycle or hop on a bus than to clamber into a car, nor whether east London will finally get the waste infrastructure and jobs needed to avoid expensive landfill once and for all.
The Games themselves will have been pretty kind on the environment if you ignore the construction, flights and all the rest. Will the tarmac and concrete give way to a park, gardens, canals and paths that help local people and wildlife flourish?
And there is really no way of knowing whether the evicted allotment holders will get brilliant new allotments some time after 2014, nor whether food growing will be encouraged in gardens and streets as well.
Is this a Games with lasting benefit for London? I’m crossing my fingers.