21 August 2012

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My fading Olympic dream


I love the Olympics. I really do. I grew up believing in its dream of humanity coming together to celebrate sporting achievement. I am steeped in its tenet of 'taking part is more important than winning'. Throughout my youth I was watching the games from Mexico, Munich, Moscow sitting cross-legged on the carpet, many times in my pyjamas due to the late or early hour. I never dreamt that I would be able to actually visit an Olympic event, that I would actually live in the city where the Olympics take place. It just seemed too far fetched, the logistics impossible to my mind. The idea of the transcendence of human strife through a common activity has dominated my life. The Olympics have always made me feel like a World citizen. Until now. The games we all about amateurism, about the achievements of the determined against all the odds. Keeping out professional athletes made it an event of individuality. Now it seems to be down to whoever has access to the biggest money pot.

Don't get me wrong, London is a great host city for the games, just the right amount of ingenious organisation (a pedestrian bridge across the super-busy Hyde Park corner, a comprehensive and easy to use website for all events) with a bit of hilarious shambles mixed in (the culture secretary whose bell flew off the handle during the ringing in of the opening ceremony, athlete ferry bus drivers from Yorkshire lost in the Big Smoke). It's not that, it's my current proximity to the greedy, shameless, corrupt and amoral Olympic Organising Committee and its ever-reaching tentacles that have destroyed the Olympic dream for me. A few examples:

1. For a while there was the possibility that no-one would be able to sell chips with their meals in the Olympic village other than the exclusive sponsor MacDonald's. Yes, because it was such a good idea in the first place to sell sponsorship of the biggest sports event on the planet to a fast food company known for the low nutritional value of their offering.

2. Threatening visitors who may want to upload their own videos or photos of the opening ceremony. I am all for getting a grip on the incessant camera phone photography getting out of hand all around us, but in the name of copyright and exclusivity?

3. Cadbury's, the British chocolate maker, is our 'Official Treat Provider'. A big purple tent with a Joyville Tasting Zone and a Chocolatrium (really!) in the Hyde Park screen area reminds everyone that corporate might can buy anything nowadays, even children's entertainment. Oh, and what athlete eats chocolate as part of their diet?

4. Trying to nab some last-minute tickets I discover that there is no way to buy tickets for events without a VISA card - the official payment services sponsor of the Olympics. I have one, but what are we doing when we allow a company to buy this kind of monopoly? It's not as if VISA was super-benevolent with its Wikileaks ban recently.

5. The incessant bombardment with advertisement around the Olympics is driving me crazy. I wish companies would use their imagination. But the draconian crackdowns on the use of the terms 'Olympia', '2012', even plain 'Games' in advertising, regardless of whether it's a Greek cafe or Nike shoes, feels just greedy.

So my quest for the rest of these games is to see how much of the Olympics I can take in for free, without feeding the maw of commercialism, and whether I can recapture some of my fast-dissolving dream along the way. Wish me luck.