The fervour is dying down, surely to mount again soon. It has been officially confirmed today that Premier League football club West Ham United are to take control of London’s new Olympic Stadium venue.
The mathematics are predictably ludicrous. The wonderfully-named Roger Blitz of the FT surmises it concisely:
“The east London club, £75m in debt and bottom of the Premier League, plans to spend £95m on building a roof and other facilities to create a multipurpose venue for football, athletics, cricket and pop concerts.”
This, of course, is quite aside from the figure in excess of £500m of taxpayer money that it cost to build the stadium, and as Blitz goes on to relate:
West Ham will pay for the redevelopment using £40m from Newham [Council] and a £35m fund within the £500m stadium budget that is available for conversion work.
Eye-watering sums of money.
While the wrangling was marked by reams of detailed discussion and assorted minutiae (and often thinly-veiled attacks) that have made the discussion so tedious to those not involved, practically nobody has objectively analysed the benefit that the Olympic Stadium will bring in the years after 2012 to the remainder of England. In fact, it is very difficult to discern the tangible and measurable benefits of the stadium who are not fans of Premier League football to those not living in London, let alone England, after the Olympic Games.
This is testified to by the fact that practically nobody outside London has been consulted on the future fate of the stadium after the Games. BBC polls, for example, analysed how Londoners felt about such trivialities as the ‘legacy’. Others, such as the head of ‘UK Athletics’, Ed Warner, told Sky News:
“Every four years Britain looks for track and field athletes to succeed in the Union Jack vest, to lift the nation. If we don’t have an Olympic stadium after a Games here in London, where will the inspiration be to the next generation of athletes?”
Quite aside from the fact that the presence of an Olympic stadium is totally irrelevant to UK athletes if they have no chance of ever performing there due to it not hosting meaningful events after 2012, what benefit does it provide to those living – shock horror! – outside the Home Counties? Would a Scotsman dream of performing to 20,000 people (at most) in East London? I would reckon it unlikely.
Incredibly, the focus still seems to be on whether affluent, southern English football fans -most of whom now commute to games from the leafy suburbs – are ‘comfortable’. Former Premier League chief Rick Parry said to Sky News that:
“I don’t think mixing athletics and football works. With athletics, the viewing distances are definitely compromised, the comfort is compromised and it’s not a great solution. It does impact on the atmosphere. If the comfort isn’t right for spectators, they vote with their feet and that has an impact on future revenues.”
Or is it about Europe?
UK Athletics Head Coach, the Dutchman Charles van Commenee, has said to Sky Sports:
“If London doesn’t have a stadium where we can organise major championships in athletics, that puts you in a category in Europe that I can’t even think of. Is there any capital in Europe that can’t do this? Even Vilnius or Tallinn (the capitals of Lithuania and Estonia) can do that. Maybe the capital of Albania doesn’t have a stadium, I don’t know.”
So to Mr van Commenee, it would be preferable for a nation in the grip of recession to lavish further extortionate quantities of money on something that will really only benefit the minuscule few on any bell graph in order to toe the line with Europe? I would suggest that this gentleman not consider an alternative career in economics.
And yet, the actual discernable benefits even to the myriad local communities are unclear at best, and minimal for the most part.
As early as 16th March 2009, Dave Hill of The Guardian was highlighting the fact that official employment statistics over those working at the site were extremely misleading:
The ODA’s claim was that 56 percent are “from London” and 23 percent are “local residents”, but it soon emerged that being “from London” or living near the site didn’t necessarily mean the same thing as being a Londoner or local. You might have arrived from Lithuania only a week ago, but if you had digs in Tower Hamlets you were classed as a local resident.
The picture remains unclear. In January I went to a community meeting in Hackney Wick, called by the ODA. There it emerged that only three percent of the stadium and park workforce were “from Hackney”, and that figure did not reveal if the three percent were settled Hackney residents or foreign workers living in the borough temporarily.
Rushanara Ali has also written eloquently on how local communities of all descriptions have felt marginalised by the flood of foreign money and big business interest that has lifted the matter out of the hands of ordinary people. If even the ordinary people in the direct surrounds of the Stadium are not being represented, what hope do the English people across the nation have of gaining any benefit?
In this matter, we see several of the matters that have acted directly in opposition to the interests of the English people as a nation; we see the tyranny of big business and foreign capital, and of Europe; the cronyism of international sports associations; of Government acting in favour of the international over the local and the interests of internationalism generally.
I therefore remain immensely sceptical as to whether England as a nation will see any discernable benefit from this comprehensively South-East-centric Olympics, irrespective of who has the stewardship of the facilities after the Games. The affluent suburb-dwellers have it all to gain, as usual.