I’m not that much into sport, so my visit to the Olympic Park on Sunday was a social occasion for close friends but – heroically, and so that you don’t have to – it was a chance to see for myself what £11 billion of taxpayers money buys you in terms of sporting venues. The park is basically everything the Government and the mainstream media says it is. It’s big, it’s new, it is finished on time and to a high standard, and it is peppered with massive arenas.
Approaching via a bridge from Stratford station I was immediately impressed. There is so much retail space. So many tall glazed edifices to prosperity, emblazoned with big bold life affirming advertisments with pictures of beautiful toned athletes. You felt as if some decent equipment and a proper committment of time you could actually have a body like that, and not like mine which is more suited to the Casino above Westfield. The view as you approach is of a highly developed and aspirational commercial centre. This place means business.
Security was a bit of a drag. “Belt?” “No, Sir that’s fine”. Beep. “Shall I take my belt off?”, “No mumble mumble”, “Huh?”, “We just need to search you”, “Oh okay”, “What’s that in your pocket?”, “That’s a nutri-grain bar”. “Excuse me sir, is this your bag…?” I was expecting nothing less than this, and having decided to go I was willing to comply. I had deliberately taken as little as possible, I even left behind my umbrella. Thankfully we were in inside 15 minutes.
Then, you see it, a massive couldron or crown like arena ringed with politically correct lighting powered, laughably, by the kind of vertical wind-mill that only works in a stiff breeze. Actually, I suppose there are batteries and costs can be offset over time, but the point is that nowhere else has these windmill topped lighting rigs. If they actually made economic sense every council in London would have them. They do not. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the sole purpose of these windmills is to look politically correct.
It doesn’t stop there.
The next thing to hit you is the stuff that’s missing. There are vast open spaces so that really large numbers of people can move around comfortably, there is mature planting, and a decent selection of practical artificial surfaces, street lights, bins, there is even a a little stall set up where you can buy fresh olives. And that is it. I don’t know what they intend to do with all the space after the Olympics, which barely fills it, but for now you can walk along for ages thinking, “there could be a Banger Brothers stand, right there, and I would buy one”.
All the commerce and bustle and aspiration that was so evident outside is banished on the inside. Far from being a brash advertising emblazoned hell of silly promotional guff, the IOC have acheived the precise opposite. The ultimate reflection of their anti-profit ethic is a barren desert of concrete lacking in the essential vitality and convenience of real commerce.When it rained, the under provision of seating and awnings become more than apparent as people of all ages and classes sheltered in the toilets. Umbrella-less we resorted to a tree and pulling jackets over heads. When the sun came out gangs of volunteer entertainers tried vainly to create an atmosphere. Two MacDonalds and two big “experiences” for Panasonic and Acer did nothing to help you feel looked after.
By contrast Silverstone, the F1 Grand Prix venue, is packed with stalls selling all sorts of merchandise, and vans offering different styles of hot food and drinks. Like at other events, prices at Silverstone are fixed to avoid accusations of gauging, but the competition is apparent as neighbours do vary by quality. Also, there is music, trade stands, childrens entertainment, and rides of different sorts. At the Olympic Park, there isn’t much on offer at all. There is probably just enough catering to feed the majority just adequately. In fact, barely adequately as by 3pm they had run short of some items.
The stalls seemed so uniform that I assumed they were all run by one contractor, and if so then the badges at the Fish and Chip stand revealed the contractor to be Sodexho Prestige, a firm I know best from visiting the staff canteens of listed corporations.
The Cadburies stand for chocolates and ice creams had been euphemistically labelled “Treat Stalls” or some such.
The corporations were there alright, but they were hiding, and the vulgar capitalism that could have provided a much more vibrant, more varied experience had been excluded.