London 2012: 10 reasons some people will dread the Olympics

By Tom de Castella
BBC News Magazine

This year's Olympics have generated vast amounts of excitement among everybody in the UK. Well, that's not quite right. Some people are really, really dreading them.

It's been difficult to escape the crescendo of positive publicity about the London games.

IOC chief Jacques Rogge is visiting London for the final inspection, which is set to suggest everything is on track.

Everyone from politicians to pole vaulters has waxed lyrical about the amazing spectacle that is going to take place this summer, bringing together a nation in a blaze of feverish excitement and sporting pride.

But there are those who are not quite convinced.

There are criticisms from people in London that the Games will cause chaos, disrupt business and make life more difficult for many people.

And there are critics hundreds of miles away from London who still can't quite work out why they're paying for the Games.

So what are the reasons behind some people's lack of enthusiasm?

1. The "Zil" lanes

Image caption,
Epic congestion is predicted

The organisers of London 2012 are creating 30 miles of Games Lanes for use by the "Olympic family". The lanes apply to major routes across London that have two or more carriageways and will be used by 4,000 BMWs and 1,500 coaches ferrying around Olympic VIPs, athletes, sponsors and the media. It has created anger about congestion and the preferential treatment of Olympic dignitaries and sponsors over ordinary Londoners. Anyone using the lane without authorisation will be fined heavily.

Critics have nicknamed them "Zil" lanes, a reference to the special treatment given to Zil limousines used by senior officials in the Soviet Union. Often it will be the bus lane that is used, and in about half of such cases, buses will be pushed into the lane for general traffic. Ambulances without their blue lights on are not allowed in the lanes - a decision that may lead vulnerable patients who are not deemed emergencies to get stuck in traffic, private ambulance providers say.

Transport for Londonadmits that the lanes will create "hotspots" at certain places such as Euston Road and in Wimbledon while the tennis events are on. But "doomsday" will be avoided if drivers plan ahead to avoid the busiest times of day.

2. Cost

Image caption,
Nor does memorabilia come cheap

For some, the Games are a huge waste of public money. Originally estimated at a cost of £2.4bn, the budget had by 2007 ballooned to £9.3bn. Now that it looks likely to come in at just over £9.2bn, organisers are claiming that the Games are "on time and on budget".

"It's a colossal waste of dough," says Sam Leith, a columnist for the London Evening Standard. "Imagine a builder coming to your house, giving you a quote for £300, revising it to £1,500 and then saying it had come in under budget. You'd be outraged." If there was evidence to show that the Olympics boosted the host nation's economy then that might help. But this is not the case, Leith says.

TheDepartment of Culture, Media and Sport says: "The budget for the Games was finalised and set in 2007 at £9.3bn and we have been completely transparent about the anticipated final cost, giving regular, quarterly financial updates. The benefits from hosting the Games are major in social, economic and sporting terms and will be a boost to the country."

But the economic benefits of hosting an Olympics are much disputed. Some cities, like Montreal, have suffered financially. And there have been theories that the Athens 2004 Olympics may have contributed to Greece's catastrophe.

The picture isn't clear in London. The British Chambers of Commerce has forecast that the Olympics may push growth down in the short term, with productivity reduced. Andrew Lloyd Webberhas predicted a serious downturn for the theatre during the period.

3. What about the rest of the country?

As the last major site left in the capital, the land used for the Olympic park would have been redeveloped anyway by the private sector, says Edwin Heathcote, an architect and Financial Times writer. With London booming and short of land, it seems strange that a vast sum is being poured in, he argues. Far better to invest the money reviving deprived northern cities, he believes. Prof Michael Parkinson, Director of the European Institute for Urban Affairs, supports the London Olympics but regrets the repeated focus on London and the South East. "Look at the major infrastructure projects in the UK - high speed rail, Crossrail and the Olympics. They're all jolly good things but they all constitute very considerable investment in London and the South East."

But those behind the Olympics say they are "determined" that London 2012 benefits the whole of the UK. TheDCMSsays: "More than 1,500 businesses across the UK have already won £6 billion worth of contracts during the construction phase with additional business opportunities created as we prepare to stage the events. Our international and domestic tourism campaign - GREAT - is expected to generate £3 billion in trade and investment and additional tourist spend as well as creating more than 50,000 jobs. The Torch Relay will go to every corner of the UK as it visits more than 1,000 communities over 70 days. Towns and cities across the country will also benefit as athletes from round the world train at pre-Games training camps in local facilities."

4. Public transport chaos

Image caption,
Not so much rush hour as rush days

In London, even for those who avoid the roads completely, there will be chaos on public transport. The Tube will get even busier and with major delays or hot summer weather could become unpleasant. The most likely blackspots are key interchanges on the Central, Jubilee, District and Hammersmith and City lines, which feed two stations - Stratford and West Ham - near the Olympic Park.

King's Cross is another potential problem as the Javelin trains serving Stratford International will leave from the adjacent St Pancras International. Earlier this year, Network Rail chief executive Sir David Higgins warned that "bad things will happen" to London's transport system during the Olympics. The key thing was not to panic, he said.TfLsays: "London's transport network will, at certain times and in certain places, be very busy next summer. People planning to travel in London next summer are advised to visit to see what steps they can take to avoid transport hotspots and keep themselves, and London, moving."

5. White elephants

Image caption,
High-rise flats have sprung up in and around the site

There's already been much talk of impressive facilities becoming white elephants once the Olympics have finished. All previous Olympics have left behind a trail of expensive, often huge, amphitheatres of sport which cease to have a purpose once the Games have left town.

Athens is a notorious example but even the more successful hosts like Barcelona and Sydney have their fair share of empty arenas and "tumbleweed" spaces. Heathcote says that the sporting infrastructure is hard to justify for a few moments of national pride.

The process to pass on the £500m Olympic Stadium has already failed once, with a deal with West Ham and Newham Council to use it collapsing in October amid acrimony.

The cost of upkeep of other facilities is another worry. The Aquatics Centre, which is being taken over by Greenwich Leisure after the Games will be one of the most expensive pools in the world to maintain, according to Heathcote. Legacy uses have been found for the majority of the venues but the success of such arrangements will only be known in years to come.

TheOlympic Park Legacy Companysays: "There will be no white elephants. Legacy plans are more advanced than any previous Olympic host city. Already six of the eight permanent venues have their future secured, with the remaining two to be secured this summer.

"They will leave a great legacy for athletes, visitors and local people alike. We have already announced that the cost of a swim or court hire in the Aquatics Centre or Multi-Use Arena will be in line with existing local facilities, and 75% of jobs in those venues will go to local people."

6. Blanket coverage

Image caption,
There won't be anything. Else. On.

The media will be providing blanket coverage that will be hard to escape. World Cup widows find the barrage of football for a month every four years hard to stomach. But the Olympics is bigger and crucially is being hosted in Britain. "Any of the big sporting events tends to swamp you," says Annie Chipchase, who campaigned against the Olympics before 2005 with NoLondon2012. "But the Olympics is even more over the top than the World Cup. I've been dreading this year." The BBC as official Olympic broadcaster is using BBC One and BBC Three to cover every sport from every venue during the Olympic Games.

Roger Mosey, theBBC's director of London 2012,argues that a balance will be maintainedand that there will be "sanctuaries for people who don't want to go Olympic-crazy". But critics may respond that it won't just be the dedicated coverage of the events but all the surrounding hype and bombast that makes the Olympics hard to ignore.

7. Grassroots sport may actually suffer

Image caption,
Grassroots sport may not benefit

The Olympics may not boost mass participation in sport. Hosting an Olympics means not only ploughing money into stadiums and velodromes, but supporting elite athletes, which costs big money. Each gold medal at the Beijing Games cost Australia Aus$45m (£28m). The London 2012 bid argued that hosting the Olympics - and in the process winning lots of medals - would boost sporting participation.

The Sport and Recreation Alliance, which tries to raise sporting participation, is backing the Games. But Tim Lamb, the group's chief executive, says mistakes were made. "The overall budget should have contained realistic provision for achieving the legacy of participation. No games has achieved it before and there was no reason to think that we could achieve it without careful planning and without the right funding in place." The build-up to London 2012 has not led to mass take up of sport and last year youth participation in sport fell, according to Sport England. "The Olympics is a great spectacle you sit and watch," says Chipchase. "So I can't see why everyone will get up off the sofa and start taking more exercise. It hasn't happened anywhere else."

Indeed critics argue the huge cost of hosting the Games, has diverted money away from local sports facilities. In 2009 the Conservatives - then in opposition - argued that spending on grassroots sport had fallen by a fifth as resources were reallocated to the Olympics. And close to the Olympic Park football pitches on Hackney's East Marsh lost out to a coach park.

TheDCMSsays: "The Games will put sport in the spotlight like never before and will capture the imagination of a generation. We are ensuring we have everything in place to capitalise after the Games, with first-class community sport on offer across the country that will encourage young people inspired by London 2012 to pursue a sporting habit for life."

8. Natural beauty

Image caption,
Urban wildlife spotting

The Olympic site is concreting over a unique urban wilderness, one of the last major undeveloped sites in London. There was something wonderful about the landscape that the Olympic site was built upon, says Chipchase. "It was this derelict area of east London but the wildlife had come back. You walked off Stratford High Road and you were suddenly in the country with interesting habitats and species." It was a place for families to go and reflect away from the crowds - crowds who are a feature of what has replaced it, she argues.

TheOlympic Delivery Authorityresponds: "For more than 100 years much of what is now the Olympic Park was a heavily polluted dumping ground for industrial and domestic waste. Since 2005, we have cleaned miles of waterways and two million tonnes of soil, as well as removing disused buildings and scores of huge electricity pylons. London and the UK is getting a new sustainable urban park with more than 45 hectares acres of green space, including woodland and wildlife habitats, that will double in size after the Games as the Olympic Park is reshaped and for long-term public use for generations to come."

9. Control freakery and sponsorship

Image caption,
Security will be tight

To some, the organisers are control freaks. Critics complain that only certain food and drinks will be allowed in, items of clothing that annoy sponsors will be banned and heavy-handed security will prevent political expression. The Olympics Act of 2006 protects London 2012 from companies associating themselves with the Games when they're not allowed to, something which small firms object to.

The author Iain Sinclair, who lives in Hackney, told Prospect magazine: "The only water you are allowed to buy is [sold by] Coca-Cola. The only food you are allowed to buy is McDonald's. The access to the site is through the Westfield shopping mall… It is like an invasion."

The McDonald's in the Olympic Park will be the biggest in the world, although the company points out that other food outlets will be available. Critics -including boxer Amir Khan- find it galling that a nation fighting obesity will have a giant fast food outlet at the heart of its greatest sporting event.

Others attack the International Olympic Committee, which runs the Olympic movement and is being blamed for the Zil lanes. Far from being some "sub branch of the UN", it is a private company which has been accused of corruption in the past, and whose use of the term "Olympic Family" smacks of something sinister, says Leith.

For Times columnist Libby Purves, there is something humiliating about the way Britain has surrendered to the IOC. "There's an awful sense of being a conquered nation. The IOC really call all the shots."

TheLondon 2012 Organising Committee (Locog)says: "We have clearly outlined in the terms and conditions of our ticketing guide what can and can't be brought into the Olympic Park and venues. We will take a firm but pragmatic approach to 'ambush marketing' at Games time and deal with any issues on a case-by-case basis."

10. Lack of real regeneration

Image caption,
A facelift for down-at-heel east London

The Games may not deliver real regeneration. The London 2012 masterplan has led to rebuilding rather than regeneration, says Heathcote. The plan missed the chance of creating a living, working neighbourhood. "When the Victorians built new bits of London there was industry, workshops and crafts. But the economic infrastructure is not being built there today."

Instead there is a Westfield shopping mall and a "vacuous" plan to develop a creative hub at the Olympic media centre, he suggests. The London Games of 1948 created a sense of "we're all in it together", whereas the 2012 version, has a corporate feel, symbolised by the sale of the athletes' village to the Qatari Sovereign Wealth Fund, he argues.

TheDCMSsays: "[The Olympics] has attracted massive private sector investment such as Westfield, and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will house five new neighbourhoods where generations will work, live and play post London 2012. The speed of this regeneration would not have been possible was it not for London hosting the Games."

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