Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Olympic Fever?

I am - as regular readers know - going to be at the Olympics as an official. I have the man bag, baseball cap and everything. I am also fiercely opposed to the corporate bean feast that organised sport has become.

There's a word for this: cognitive dissonance - the ability to function in a state of conceptual contradiction. I've sat through numerous training session festooned with the logos and propaganda of various sponsors. Most egregiously, last weekend's session featured the head of McDonald's UK talking over shots of underpaid teenagers serving burgers making the astonishing assertion that exploited employees selling poisonous rubbish within a sporting venue constituted the Olympic ideal. What's the No 1 health problem facing Western countries? Obesity.

Perhaps, in this era, it does. Certainly the sport comes a poor second to the competitive branding activities. There's a lot of fuss on the web today about the Chips Controversy. When you arrive in the Olympic Park, you're faced with the gustatory option of 5 McDonald's outlets, one of them the biggest in the world (gold medal for McD), or a tiny range of alternatives, mostly owned and/or licenced by McDonald's. If you take these options, be prepared to pay: a Cornish pasty is about £5.60, and fish+chips comes to almost £10. You can't just have chips: that infringes McDonald's exclusivity in that regard. When I was there for a test event, marshals were employed to explain to angry kids what the situation is. Oh, and unless you have a Visa card, you'll go hungry: you can't pay with any other kind of plastic, nor can you withdraw cash from ATMs, because Visa have an exclusive deal. Tickets were also available only to Visa holders.

Personally, I'd be hunting for salads, unless I had a ticket for the 100 metres sprint, in which case I'd be tempted to much dripping sandwiches in sight of the starting blocks. The Great Chips Controversy is a minor example of the way a great sporting event has slipped from the fingers of sports participants and fans. These days it's a showcase for the corporations and governments. Companies buy access and screen time. Weapons manufacturers get to show off their latest hardware. Armed forces get their chance to look relevant in a period of cuts (there's no military purpose to the battleship moored by the Millennium Dome, or the missiles on people's roofs: it's a show of force designed to make political points to the Ministry of Defence). Governments get to look competent and cool, despite the Games' disastrous economic consequences: it's cost £9bn so far and regeneration has basically not happened. I've walked around the East End and outside the barbed wire of the Olympic Park it looks no better than it did in the 80s. The International Olympic Committee is still - like all international sporting bodies - a bastion of old-style fascism and corruption, on a personal and corporate scale. One of the conditions of hosting the Games is new set of laws passed to protect the licensing and financial demands of the IOC, and exempting the whole organisation from taxation - cash removed from our schools and hospitals and spent not on promoting sport, but on the jet-setting lifestyle of these ghastly élites.

And yet I'll still be there, cognitive dissonance intact. Why? I don't rightly know. Partly because it's the highest level of activity in my sport and I have the chance to be right there, on the floor, feet away from the best athletes on the planet (and the British team, of course). Certainly it's not any kind of patriotic impulse - union flags give me hives. Whenever I think of the Games, I feel conflicted: the sheer scale and excitement are wonderful, but virtually everything that happens off-piste horrifies me. Everything about it contradicts my belief that the best aspects of social activity - sport, politics, activism, education - are powered from below, often by amateurs, and yet here I am doing my bit.

So I'm a hypocrite. Bite me.


Jon Tulloch said...

I would bite you, but my mouth is already full of Big Mac (registered trademark) and fries (available from non-McDonalds-participating stores only when served as part of an inclusive meal), bought with cash from a visa (registered trademark) wall machine (because the others have been disabled by corporate agreement).

Guess I'm just living the Olympic dream...

Shackleford Hurtmore said...

Do you get paid for helping out?

If not, I don't think I could live with the cognitive dissonance. The idea of providing *free* labour to multinational corporations at the same time as complaining about low wages.

What would happen if all you volunteers just phoned in sick on the day?