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 Day 19

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The London Olympics

Let the Muddle Begin

by BINOY KAMPMARK

It has begun.  Oscar-winning Danny Boyle is one of the artistic gatekeepers who was commissioned to deal with the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, and was given £27m to do it.  There was Mary Poppins, the Red Arrows, there was the Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, decked in yellow jersey in front of the Olympic bell.  There was historical context thrown in, idiosyncratic twists and turns.  If people find hope and happiness in such saccharine nonsense, well and good.  There was certainly some bafflement to be had.

The occasion provides a stupefacient, annulling the senses.  If the fireworks show is good, then everything else will go swimmingly.  “What the Olympics have, in their formal, cyclical way,” wrote a clearly moved James Lawton (Independent, Jul 28), “is renewal, a wiping-away of the past and a huge investment not so much in the future but the moment.”  Criticism is muted, even neutered – one “had to be a brave and resilient polemicist last night” to ignore being caught up in that moment.

Then come the almost moronic comparisons – the pissing contest is all de rigueur when it comes to Olympic openings.  Did, for instance, Beijing do it better?  “Watching these open ceremonies,” tweeted Slate’s Matt Yglesias, “fairly confident that China will bury the west.”  Police states must have all the fun at sporting ceremonies.  Marina Warner of the Guardian was thrilled by the “brilliantly irrational night” – and its indigestibility for foreign palettes.  A true muddle of a scene.

Then there was Mitt Romney’s London visit, one that went hopelessly wrong for the US presidential contender.  His own summations of London’s Olympic effort were negative, something that immediately placed his own record regarding the 2002 Winter Games in Utah in the spotlight. Let’s ignore, shall we, the corruption endemic to that event, and the papering over received from federal funding.

Or rather, let’s not.  Former rival Rick Santorum in February remaindered us that, “One of the things he talks about most is how he heroically showed up on the scene and bailed out and resolved the problems of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games.”  He did so by “heroically [bailing] out the Salt Lake City Olympic Games by heroically going to Congress and asking them for tens of millions of dollars to bail out the Salt Lake Games in an earmark.”  An unimpressed Prime Minister David Cameron took his rapier out:   “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympics Games in the middle of nowhere.”  Rupert Murdoch’s UK Sun also jointed the criticism – this was “Mitt the Twit” talking.

So, matters are already proving entertaining for London 2012.  Where there is rhetoric on fairness in sport, an actuality of corruption is bound to take precedence.  The ‘peoples games’ is all too often a short hand expression for ‘orgy of the elite’, playground for the terminally cashed.  Be it the sportsmen and women who fight it out on the pitches or the Olympic Committee members who move about their anointed cities like an intergalactic parasite consuming all before them, we know each Olympics when we see it.  London has seen the unfortunate construction and allocation of road lanes dubbed “Zil” lanes (or Game Lanes) – if Stalin’s vehicles could have special access in the proletarian paradise, so can Olympic officials and their various impedimenta.

The introduction of those lanes has been particularly disrupting for motorists.  One can be fined £130 for making unauthorised use of them, and a mass revolt by drivers should be encouraged.  (So far, one item of resistance has been documented – a taxi driver taking the plunge off the Tower Bridge in protest against the exclusivity of those lanes.)  In any case, given that space is at a premium in London’s transport infrastructure, such a move is something the city can ill afford.  On Wednesday, this became all too apparent with the eight-mile clog-up on the M4 motorway.

Transport for London, that Orwellian overseer of a system they scant understand, have been pleased by the compliance of Londoners.  Riots are not imminent – yet.  “Compliance among drivers have been high” (Independent, Jul 25).  There was less compliance on the part of those providing the new cable car system, valued at £45m.  More than 30 cars, equipped with 60 passengers, were suspended 300 ft above Thames on Wednesday.  Emirates Air Line – the geniuses behind it – had some explaining to do.

If not on the roads, then on the Tube – the London transport system will be moving into a well-earned paralysis.  For the duration of this month, there will be regular announcements of delays on every single line of the network.  Globally, the Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith, and City Lines, shall be made more famous than they already are.  Yes, the games have well and truly begun.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com