I got 99 problems but an Olympics ain't one


As you sit at home enjoying your very biased Australian coverage of the Olympics from the free to air channels, perhaps you may be tempted to think that it’s Australia vs. the World. But not to worry, after all it’s free to watch and we watch what we care about right? As you sit back and enjoy the games, I thought I may take a few lines to reflect on a few realities that you are surely not going to see on TV.

Being an economist-in-training, it is natural to start with numbers and who would want to undermine that while the games are happening in London? When London won the bid in 2005, they estimated the cost to be $3.5 billion but thanks to the new sport of low-balling the actual costing and overhyping the benefits, that cost figure has now catapulted to about $18 billion. The sad thing is that 88-98% of this money will be paid directly by taxpayers. So who does all this money benefit? Moody’s, the rating agency, suggests that the benefits of the Olympics will be positive in net but far less than gross visitor numbers would suggest. Corporates are said to have the largest benefit from the event and Moody’s also point to the huge disruption to business that the games will cause.

Besides the irony, I am sceptical of seeing McDonald’s and Coca Cola as major Olympics sponsors but I won’t dwell on this. Of more worry is Dow Chemicals. Dow Chemicals is perhaps infamous for one of the world’s worst-ever industrial catastrophes in 1984, the Bhopal gas disaster, yet they still refuse to add to the $470 million that was paid out in 1989 as compensation. It is also common knowledge that Dow has since bought Union Carbide which was responsible for production of napalm that was used in the Vietnam War. Protesters have set up a “special Olympics” with children from ages 5 to 16 acting disabled. Now I promise you are not to see that on your TV despite it being something everyone should be made aware of.

Also, it is never Australian enough without Rio Tinto in the mix somewhere. Rio Tinto has been contracted to make the Olympic medals for these games. Their mining activity and pollution in Mongolia or even Utah is not at all reputable and there is also an organised protest against this at the games.

The great Alexander Cockburn once wrote, “these special rules and laws sit around the grass like snakes, and at the opportune moment they pop their heads out and bite the ankles of activists.” Olympic time means that the police need reinforcement and this is very much present in these games. Without disparaging the need for security at the games, it is hard for the police to draw the line between security and militarisation. Is the largest security operation since World War II justified? When the Mayor was asked about the heavy military personnel his answer was, “I think most people in this country don’t have any objection at all to seeing venues being properly invigilated by professional military armed services people.”

A final observation is that florists have been banned from displaying their flowers in the Olympic symbolic circles since 2006. The florists could pay a £20,000 fine if they were caught doing this “illegal ambush marketing”. Ambushing who?

So when you next turn on the TV to enjoy some Aussie champ, think about of what is actually happening beyond those stadiums and courts as the cameras zoom fast past East London. I hope you enjoy actively and critically.