The XXX Oympiad, in all its corporate glory, will open a week from today, with evening opening ceremonies that will be packed. That might be the only event that will be packed, however, since it’s not clear that tickets have been sold for all the events. In fact, we know that the football games, including several with current World and European champion Spain, are still full of unsold seats, perhaps since the football events are being held around the country. Who is going to go to Cardiff to see football? Well, hopefully, someone will. But in spite of the various levels of ineptitude that this sort of event always seems to bring out, I’m looking forward to attending my first Olympics.
Events—of the non-athletic kind—have been going on for some time. The Cultural Olympiad has been going on for several months, with a panoply of events such as all of Shakespeare being done in about 30 different languages. This weekend we head down to Thameside for a bunch of concerts by the river—the African stage tomorrow, and the Oceana (lots of fiddles!) and Americas stage on Sunday. This is going to be great. We were hoping to get tickets to the Scissor Sisters, but those sold out in a flash. So what? We’re going to get to see some great acts. And in lieu of the opening ceremonies, where tickets also went in a flash, we’re doing a river cruise of the Thames in the evening for the fireworks display.
We do have some tickets to actual athletic events too, although I have to laugh when I think about it. The whole ticket exercise was a shambles, on many fronts, not the least of which is that no one at this point still knows how may unsold tickets there are right now. The ticket sales themselves were a lottery—you put in your request, and maybe got some tickets. Given the number of unsold tickets still (we’re still getting emails about buying tickets for some of the events), this was probably unnecessary. Then there’s the fact that since Visa is an Olympic sponsor, you couldn’t use your Mastercard to buy tickets—you had to use your Visa card. Except no one here actually has a Visa card as a Credit Card—it’s all Mastercard. What people have Visa cards for is as Debit cards—which means that everyone had to use their Debit cards without knowing what they were going to get docked for, if they actually got any tickets. And Visa and the ticketing agency were going to get to sit on the float for at least a month. Now we know why they like being a sponsor.
But get tickets we did—diving, and, um, beach volleyball. The two skimpiest outfits in the Olympics. The beach volleyball is at Horse Guards Parade, not out at the Olympic Park, and it’s at 9:00 in the morning. I can tell you neither which teams we’re going to see, nor which gender. Nor could I comment on the uniforms, since the British women’s team—whom I imagine are in about the same great shape as every other women’s team—received permission to wear leggings and pullovers if the weather remains, well, as crappy as it’s been. Honestly, this is the worst summer I can remember—it’s been grey and rainy and cold the entire time, and glimpses of the sun have been rare. Whether this means there will be a glut of returns remains to be seen. The diving event is out in the new Aquatics center, which should be neat.
And then two weeks ago we decided to see some more—so we got tickets to handball. Which is not the handball that I grew up with as a sprout around New York. This handball is like football or water polo, except you can carry the ball, and it’s on dry land. It’s a team sport, not two guys batting the ball around in a squash court. So, new horizons.
There have, of course, been a number of embarrassments for the government and the organizers. Probably the most predictable, and the most embarrassing, was last week’s revelation that G4S, the British firm that was hired to provide security for the games, had failed so miserably in the task that the army had to be sent in. There will apparently be more British soldiers providing security at the games than there are in Afghanistan—although that’s a good thing, when you think about it. Of course, there is a potential downside, but we’ll skip by that for the time being.
This is yet another example of the deluded love of privatization that still stalks the halls of power here, as it does in the US, and from which no one ever learns anything. Seamus Milne over at The Guardian had an excellent comment on this subject, which should be required reading among policymakers in both Britain and the US—but probably won’t be. Just this week, for example, we learn that the Ministry of Defence is about to privatize defence procurement in the UK. Golly, what could go wrong there? G4S, which also manages security for British bases in Afghanistan, among other things, may lose more than some face here.
Not that I’m unsympathetic to security concerns. London is a permanent target, as people who lived here during decades of IRA bombings well know, and as the 7/7 bombings several years ago reminded us. There’s a reason why you still can’t find trash bins in major train stations. And I imagine the security issues here are probably pretty nightmarish. Londoners, though, are pretty much like New Yorkers in this regard—they just keep on going no matter what.
And of course, since it’s Britain, we couldn’t have the Olympics without some strikes, and, sure enough, security personnel at Heathrow Airport are set to go on strike next Thursday—the day before the opening ceremonies, and one of the busiest days Heathrow is likely to ever experience. Perfect. I like to think I’m a good old time union supporter, but this seems both unnecessary and counterproductive. Well, whatever.
Then there’s the ongoing issue of the permanent corporatization of what should be a wonderful display of athletic exuberance. Once inside the Olympic Park, the only restaurant where you can get food will be McDonalds (although there will also be some unbranded merchants sell stuff too, apparently). There you go—healthy eating at the world’s premiere athletic competition. Taking food and drinks into the Park will be strictly limited, but allowed. Water will be free, though, and you can bring an empty bottle to help yourself. And the organizers claim to have a “food vision,” representing their commitment to sustainability. Here’s hoping—it’s Britain, with great local food, so hopefully they’ll have some. But I just don’t know—as with so many things here, it could go either way. And, of course, if you want to use a credit card, it will have to be a Visa card. It’s the cultural corruption that this represents that makes me sympathetic to Iain Sinclair’s rage against the Olympics project, with its steamrolling of the landscape, and of local communities, and of the very concept of localism. The Olympics, in their most perverse corporate way, have become anti-democratic.
But still, I’m looking forward to it. The contradictions of modern life usually get compartmentalized, and this will be no exception. There will be people from everywhere—it is London, after all, where everyone has at least 80 relatives living somewhere out there in the Commonwealth. It’s a grand party, or should be. And when will I have the chance to do this again by just hopping on the overground for the 20 minute ride to the Olympic Park? How can I not? I’ll let you know how the beach volleyball goes. And next Thursday we’re going to get up early and watch the Olympic torch go by down in Camden. Pretty cool. I’m even almost prepared to forgive the organizers for their abysmal judgment in their choice of logo and mascots, to say nothing of the posters. By all accounts, these exemplars of bad taste can’t hold a candle to some of the national uniforms that we’ll be seeing, although the British ones, I think, look pretty good. I can’t wait.