I read in the papers (The Observer, 30th January) that privately many members of the team responsible for London's bid to host the Olympics in 2012 are already admitting defeat. What a relief!
I find that I have no idea who it was that made the decision to bid for the Olympics in the first place, let alone why. Ken Livingstone, probably - it's a daft enough idea. What I do know is that nobody asked the good people of London who would have had to foot a large part of the bill. Foxy Ken promised over £1 billion of London council-tax-payers' money to this ill-conceived project. His assurance that this meant only a £20 increase in council tax didn't mention that it would be £20 a year for 12 years - £240 for every Band D council-tax-payer.
And that was assuming that everything went to plan. You and I know that it would not. The Sydney Olympics in 2000 ended up costing over twice the pre-bid figures. In Athens, total costs were at least four times as high as the bid committee's initial budget. Of course, they'll have a special National Lottery game - that's their answer to everything these days.
Public authorities in Britain as a whole, and in London in particular, seem completely incapable of estimating the final cost of major public works projects. Without exception the Channel Tunnel, Channel Tunnel Rail Link, The Millennium Dome, the Millennium footbridge, the Jubilee Line Extension, Portcullis House and the Scottish Parliament have all been late and have cost far more than the original estimates, not by a few per cent, but by hundreds of per cent. What makes them think they can do any better in 2012?
Then there's the transport issue. Unlike Paris which has a brilliant (albeit financially rocky) transport system in the Metro and the double-deck RER trains, London has a complex but antiquated, overcrowded and unreliable underground system. Hugh Sumner, Director of OlympicTransport, claimed "Every day 12 million journeys are made on London's public transport network. Daily spectator demand during the Games will be around five per cent of this level at a time of year when 20 per cent of commuters are on holiday. The net result is that London will have an effective 15 per cent spare capacity for the Games." Spare capacity on the Underground? Anyone who uses the tube regularly will know immediately what garbage this is.
Apparently the planned "Olympic Javelin Shuttle" would use the new Channel Tunnel rail-link to take 240,000 people an hour from London to the Olympic Park in 7 minutes. Grand idea. I'll believe it when I see it. Our history of effective and adequate investment in rail travel is not exactly sparkling, is it? Just how long has it taken to get a Channel Tunnel rail-link, anyway? The French have had theirs up and running for years.
Then there's the alleged 17,000-bed Olympic Village. After the games it would be converted into housing for local residents. They'll really relish the thought of living on Stratford marshes, I don't think. Have you been there? It's the end of the world. This would be just another white elephant like the Millenium Dome - a public-expense monument to the vaunting ambitions of glory-hunting politicians.
The Athens Olympics weren't marred by any terrorist outrages - most of us know that the terrorist threat is vastly exaggerated by George Dubble-yu and Tony-baby anyway. But no doubt the London Olympics would have to be very thoroughly policed. Most of us never see a policeman on the beat in our own streets, so what would we be expected to do when all the remaining bobbies were down in London? Catch the burglars ourselves? Oh no, Tony Martin already tried that, and look what happened to him.
It seems particularly unfair to have involved so many of our favourite sporting heroes and heroines. Steve Redgrave and Kelly Holmes could hardly have said "No, I think this is a silly idea, the Olympics would be much better in Paris", could they? Their support for the bid was manipulated and we, naturally enthusiastic for their sporting achievements, were being manipulated too. Nor is the concept of a London Olympics fair to other regions. This is a small country, geographically compact and densely populated. Why couldn't other regions have hosted different sports? As it is, the only dispersal proposed is football at five locations (Old Trafford, the Millenium Stadium, Villa Park, St.James's Park and Hampden Park) and sailing at Weymouth. Everything else would be in London. Why?
It's very sad to be writing like this. We are a proud nation, with organisational skills unrivalled in the Western World. There's no question that we could host the Olympics brilliantly. But the fact is, we wouldn't. Because we're also a mean nation with an appalling record for ill-conceived, under-funded public works and a complete inability to make and carry through bold public investment decisions. We should admit this to ourselves, hide our heads in shame and leave it to the French who, for all their faults, do at least know how to put their money where their mouths are.
To read more about this ridiculous débacle, click here.
And now (July 2005) we hear that it's actually going to happen. The Olympics are actually coming to London. Oh God. The world's gone mad. The only compensation is that it's not until 2012. I'll probably have died by then, from terminal exasperation.
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