When Britain first held the Olympics back in 1908, the event was of a more modest sort. White City Stadium was chosen in Shepard’s Bush as the Franco-British expedition offered to fund the event in return for 75% of ticket revenues. Needless to say, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not contacted.
|The only people certain to profit from the Olympics, The IOC|
With a government budget of £9.3 billion, the modern day event bears little resemblance to its humble origins. Prime Minister Cameron has promised to “turn these games into gold for Britain”. While the games are likely to bring the spotlight to Britain, it’s not entirely clear they will bring much else.
Some argue that the velodrome or the aquatic centre will pay off long term, this looks misguided. While the swimming stadium is impressive, the people of East London don’t really need an Olympic pool, they’d rather a couple of splash pools for kids. Those mass stands look equally suspect; swimming isn’t really a spectator sport, especially not in Stratford. With a price tag of £269 million, the aquatic centre hardly looks a bargain, indeed it is emblematic of the whole games: immense and exuberant but ultimately inefficient and exorbitant.
Still, the payoff to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is assured. The emphasis on amateurism allows the committee to get their main product for free; athletes. Rather than be paid, athletes merely receive a medal and a bouquet; and that’s the lucky ones, most go back to fairly innocuous lives, not much bettered by the games.
This amateurism, coupled with distaste for ‘crass commercialism’ has given the games a hint of exclusivity which has served the IOC well. Big brands aren’t allowed to blemish the arena, hence they advertise frantically outside, providing the IOC with a great marketing tool. Yet it is unclear how the barrage of branding facing the consumer, from washing tablets to fast food, is entirely related to the Olympics or of any clear benefit to anyone other than the IOC.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted, Rome was in no position to host the 1908 Olympics; Lord Desborough, spotting an opportunity, made the offer to host the Olympics in London. Like his counterpart today, Desborough had some luck and showed certain ingenuity in getting the Olympics to London.
Desborough saw the games as a place where nations could compete in place of the battlefield. His legacy was sadly scuppered by the more tragic events that followed; he became disillusioned with the whole movement.
Lord Coe has shown equal cunning and serendipity in bringing the games back to London. Yet his hopes for an Olympic rejuvenation of Stratford looks like another legacy which may not stand the test of time.