Why Olympic dream is giving me nightmares
I spotted ’em floating slowly up the Taff towards the Millennium Stadium. Three family-sized Roath Park rowing boats with, I kid you not, a Rear Admiral in full gold-braided fig perched in the stern of the leading vessel (well, given the shortage of ships, admirals take any command they can get these days).
“Ahoy there,” I bellowed, thus letting the admiral know that as an ex-stoker I was no stranger to seamanspeak, “And what is your purpose on our little patch?” When he told me, I couldn’t believe it. Nor will you.
“We,” said the admiral with a nod to the sweating young sailors manning the oars, “we are your actual anti-Taliban flotilla. We are sussing out the best way to protect this stadium on our starboard side while an Olympic football game is being played. Couldn’t get an aircraft carrier like wot they got on the Thames under Penarth Road bridge, but we are still an elite force. No al-Qaeda frogmen will get past us. No enemy sub will go undetected.”
And if that sounds ridiculous, is it any more bizarre than the totally over-the-top security in London as the Olympics near? HMS Ocean, the navy’s biggest ship, all 21,500 tonnes of her, elbowed her way up the Thames to dock within rocket range of the Olympic Stadium.
How will she handle a single suicide bomber? Should we rename her HMS Paranoia?
Meanwhile, rooftops in the area are platforms for surface to air missiles, much to the unease of families living beneath them, while some 13,500 troops, more than we’ve got in Afghanistan, will be deployed with up to 30,000 private security guards. The estimated cost of security is now £553m, about £59,000 of public money for each competitor, and it will inevitably increase since it’s already doubled since last year.
Talking of increases – when we were awarded the Games in 2005 we were told they’d cost £2.37bn. According to Parliament’s public accounts committee it is now £12bn and could even reach £24bn, says a Sky News investigation.
Prof Stephen Graham of Newcastle University, an expert on cities and society, reflected in last week’s New Statesman magazine that these billions are being spent “in a city convulsed by massive welfare, housing benefit and legal aid cuts, spiralling unemployment and rising social protests”.
I can add that they’re being spent in a country suffering a double-dip recession, millions without work, kids without food, more cuts to come.
Is it worth it? Rarely can the term “bread and circuses” have been more relevant. Cardiff is on the periphery – none of the major events here – yet we’ve spent £300,000 on giant Olympic rings and Paralympic sculptures, sports minister Huw Lewis claiming that these would “encourage healthy life styles among young people in Wales”.
Spending the cash on playing fields to replace those already sold off would do a helluva lot more for healthy life styles. Records suggest that no country hosting the Games has seen a surge in the number of youngsters taking up sport.
It all seemed so different on that joyous July day seven years ago when London beat Paris by four votes to get the Games. What shouts of ecstasy from Blair and Beckham and the ever-optimistic Seb Coe, doubtless among those who will be whisked to their VIP seats along those special reserved traffic lanes with 4,000 chauffeur-driven limos carrying an army of the privileged.
The rest of the city, needless to say, will suffer congestion chaos.
A boon for the tourist industry? Tony Blair predicted a bonanza. Tessa Jowell, his minister for the Olympics, talked gleefully of a “two billion pound tourist boost”. They can’t have read a study by the European Tour Operators’ Association claiming there was “little evidence of any benefit to tourism of housing an Olympic Games”.
But there was “considerable evidence of damage” as would-be tourists were deterred by higher prices and rocketing hotel costs.
As I said, joy on that July day when the winner was announced. The following day, the London bombings, dramatically changing the entire approach to the Games, making us now wonder, are they worth it?
I’m betting France’s new president Francois Hollande is truly grateful to those four voters who got Paris off the Olympic hook.