Tag Archives: anti-Olympics

Critical Mass and CMP v Kay

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One of the many memorable scenes from the Olympic Opening Ceremony was the sight of several dozen cyclists emerging into the stadium, with giant wings waving behind them, like so many Tubular Bat-people. Outside, the police were then midway through the obstruction and then kettling of London’s monthly Critical Mass cycle ride. By the end of the day, 182 cyclists had been arrested; and although the police have made the welcome announcement that they have no plans to take any further action with regards to 166 of them, sixteen of those arrested still remain to be interviewed and some may yet be charged.

Most arrests were made for offences under section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986 which empowers officers to ban “public processions where a senior officer reasonably believes that the holding of such a procession would result in serious public disorder, and no action short of a ban could prevent the disorder.

This raises the question of whether Critical Mass is a public procession at all Act. Something like this question has already been subject to litigation. Section 11 of the same Act requires organisers of certain kinds of demonstration to notify the police in advance of their intention to protest. Not every demonstration requires notification (i.e. is a “notifiable procession”), but only public processions “(a) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person or body of persons, (b) to publicise a cause or campaign, or (c) to mark or commemorate an event.” From the wording of the Act it is far from clear whether this provision gives the words “public processions” their meaning (i.e. processions for other purposes are not public processions) or only specifies which public processions require their organisers to notify the police.

The Act then goes on to provide in any event that the duty to notify where the procession is one commonly or customarily held in the police area in which it is proposed to be held.

In Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v Kay [2009] 2 All ER 935, the House of Lords had to decide whether Critical Mass was “commonly or customarily held” in the same area. Their Lordships determined that it was and there was no duty to notify.

A number of the Judges remarked in passing that Critical Mass either might not be a procession or might not be a procession to demonstrate support for particular views, etc. In the words of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, “To my mind the real question here is whether these cycle rides are prima facie notifiable processions at all within the meaning of s.11. And the answer is that they are not. Their very nature as impromptu rides to my mind takes them out of the section altogether.” But these reservations refer directly to the notification duties in section only, and are less than an unequivocal statement to the effect that Critical Mass is not a public procession and does not come within the Act at all.

It is very easy to see that if any of the 2012 defendants are arrested and charged, they may well say that Critical Mass is not a public procession, does not come within the Act, cannot be lawfully prohibited by the police, and that involvement in it where there was an illegal police ban cannot be unlawful.

It is equally to see that the police will respond that Kay is a case about what sort of processions require notice, and that even if Critical Mass does not require notice, Kay has left open the question of whether Critical Mass is part of a class of events which a senior police officer can in any event prohibit.

I’d love to say that this is a battle which the police must lose. My truer, more considered belief is that there is no short-cut; only a court can determine which analysis will prevail.

The best, practical, advice for any people reading this who are within the group of 16 people still to be interviewed, comes from a message being circulated by the legal observers’ network Green and Black Cross:

“Accepting a caution has very specific implications in these cases with specific regard to the Section 12 restrictions. This is because a caution is an admission of guilt, and to be guilty of breaking the S.12 restrictions you have to acknowledge the legality of those conditions, it goes hand in hand. So in other words, or in reverse – if the conditions are illegal then there could have been no breach and therefore no offence.”

“A caution is never a great option. The police will present it as such, but this is because it is an easy, cheap and efficient way for them to convert arrests into convictions. Naturally it is very tempting for the defendant to have it all over with and not have to go to court, but having a criminal record poses many issues, especially if you work with children or vulnerable adults.”.

How much is Seb Coe paid?

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How much is Seb Coe paid for fronting up the Games? I should preface the following remarks by saying that I have no objection in principle to the idea that he should be paid something. He is not (in contrast to his fellow London Organising Committee (LOCOG) board member Lord Moynihan) a third-tier sportsman who has been over-promoted solely for reason of past service to the Tory party. Coe, who received his peerage before the Olympic bid, did of course also have a long and undistinguished career with the Conservatives, but he is where he is primarily because he is an Olympic gold-medallist and a multiple world-record-breaker, and the former holder of one of the greatest world records of all time (the 800 metre record set at Florence which lasted until 1997). By all accounts he works very hard indeed; and it seems generally accepted by people who followed the process closely that the 2005 speech he made to the IOC was instrumental in swinging the Olympic Games London’s way.

Seb Coe controls a large organisation with a significant budget. I would consider him at least as socially useful (say) as the head teacher of a large secondary school, or the vice chancellor of a modest university, and if the total amount of money that he was set to make from the Games was comparable to other public sector managers of that standing, I would see no reason in posting about it. But he is being paid rather more than that:

First, Seb Coe draws from LOCOG an annual salary of £357,000 p/a (2010-2011). This is determined by LOCOG’s remuneration committee, attended by Coe and five other LOCOG committee members. It met just twice in 2011. (The details of this salary are available in LOCOG’s accounts).

Second, according to his entry in the House of Lords Register of Interests, Coe has a a number of paid directorships, etc:

  • Non-executive Director, AMT-Sybex Group Ltd (which sells software to energy and transport businesses)
  • 0800 Reverse Limited 0800 Reverse Ltd (this appears to be a company marketing a “Battleship”-style gambling game)
  • Consultant, Chelsea Football Club
  • Speaking engagements (4 of these in the last 12 months) (Coe markets himself as a public speaker and can be booked through The Edge agency for c£10,000 per evening (Dwain Chambers gives the figure in his autobiography). This is relevant to Coe’s public activities, because the topics he speaks to (Leadership, The Art of Winning, Formulating the Perfect Team) relate to his present, publicly-funded role as Chairman of London 2012, not his past life as a private athlete.)
  • Seb Coe Health Clubs – Jupiter Hotels (he owns a number of health clubs in Leeds, Bolton, Kidderminster, etc)
  • Special Adviser, Nike International

According to the Register, Coe pays all remuneration from these sources into a company The Complete Leisure Group Limited of which he is the Sole Director.

The Complete Leisure Group appears to be a successor to “Seb Coe Ltd” (see below).

Tax

There is also the interesting question of whether he has been paying tax at the correct amount.

Just concentrating on Seb Coe Ltd first.

What the above figures appear to show is that in the two years in question (1 Jan 2007 – 31 Dec 2008) Coe was paid (ie received into his bank accounts) a total of £634,754.

Of this he has declared (just under) £20,000 as profit, and paid tax only on this smaller figure.

How did he do this? In 2008 Coe spent £41,760 on administering this company (i.e. presumably his accountant’s fee, and maybe some other similar disbursements), but in 2007 his “administrative expenses” were a whopping £587,359.

In essence, these administrative expenses have been set against both year’s income, turning a series of very high salaries into a very low profit.

It would be interesting to know why the administrative expenses were so much higher in one year than another. To my untrained eye (and as a non-accountant), the higher figure gives every appearance of an artificially generated tax loss.

I’ve attached the full accounts here for 2008 so that readers can read them for themselves. If there is a benign explanation, please do set it out in the comments box.

Now, when Seb Coe Ltd became the Complete Leisure Group here was a considerable change in the accounting model, which now confirms to those of a larger and more complex business than anything I’ve seen at first hand. Just to give one indication of its size, one of the business’s acts in 2010 was to write off £3 million in capital:

It “may” be that this figure of £3 million corresponds broadly to the real salary that Coe is now paying himself; but I’d be lying if I pretended to have the knowledge of high-end accounting to say this with any conviction.

I’ve attached the full accounts here for 2010; comments invited in the box below.

Poem for the London Olympics

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I believe in sport, in the chance it gives
To escape our cramped lives, to breathe deeply
To quit our towns of low plastic celilings,
Our days plugged in, without direct sunlight.

Standing tall, my back  straight, my head forward
I live. I steady myself and prepare
To spring forward: to move, and see anew
Parks, paths, flowers in an urban setting.

But you; who paint the worst polluters green
Who block my routes, who fence open spaces
For the private joys of spies and thieves

You, who bring rifles, jets, navy frigates
Armed police, to my London that was ease,

You have no right to speak in sport’s free name.

London 2012’s fake relay, and the runners’ Real Relay

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As I write, an unusual protest is taking place. It began with a group of runners, not a group of people known for their militancy, and in the Devon village of Torcross, not celebrated for its left-wing credentials. The runners noticed to their surprise that for the majority of its route the official Olympic Torch was not being carried at all. The torch’s route is shown on an interactive map, and anyone who looks at the map for themselves will see the patters. Each morning, a car drives the torch to a town or a city, and half a dozen runners then take the torch through the centre of that town. The torchbearers each run for about 300 metres only, which takes an hour or so. The torch is then taken by car to a new town the following day, and for the majority of the distance it is being driven.

This ersatz relay offended the sensibilities of Britain’s amateur runners, who sparked by Torcross pioneers, have responded by volunteering in vast numbers to take a torch of their own across Britain – and Ireland – running in blocks of around 8 to 10 miles each. Every metre of its distance, the unofficial torch is carried by hand. Runners’ websites have taken up the story, and it seems likely that the Real Relay will arrive in London 10 days before the official torch, having involved around 800 runner

It is interesting that the Torch relay in particular has sparked this very polite protest movement, for the relay is almost the only part of the Games that most people will be able to see in the flesh. In most places, it has been well received, and is authentically popular. Some of the reasons for the relay’s visibility are relatively banal. The Olympic organisers had the choice of distributing the Games across Britain, but plumped for the “safer” option of fitting as many of the events as they could possibly manage within a single, purpose-built stadium. The organisers’ choice to keep everything in Straftord, or at the very least in South East England, is the sole cause of the Games’ net cost to the taxpayer of £11 billion. It has of course meant an absolute bonanza to the major construction companies – Bam Nuttall, Carillion, etc – blacklisters, union busters and promoters of bogus agency employment as they are.

The relative visibility of the Torch relay is a product of more though than just the Games’ over-concentration in London. The London Organising Committee (LOCOG) have actively gone out to minimise the amount of the Games that will be capable of being watched by anyone “in the flesh”. These decisions have included fencing the route of the cycle competitions and charging for prime viewing spots (to get a sense of how this contradicts the entire history of that sport, just cast you mind back to any images you have ever seen of the Tour de France, which, like almost every cycling road race, is of course perfectly free to view) and refusing public access to horse inspections (a decisions which has caused one of the main organisers of the equestrian events Hugh Thomas to resign). The organisers could also have taken for example the Olympic 10k off the track, where it is a visually boring and uneventful competition, to one of the thousands of routes (road, park, etc) used for 10k races up and down the country. They deliberately did not do so.

The Olympic torch route is of course free to watch; in this it compares to the main Olympics events for which tickets can already be purchased on ebay for over £400 per person. This is where the “one stadium fits all” model, which Mark Perryman has criticised on this blog, proves so pernicious. It concentrates access to the Olympics in as small a venue as possible, placing a premium on tickets for the Stratford stadium. One of the commercial secrets which LOCOG are refusing to release is what proportion of the tickets for the prestige elements of the Games (eg the men’s 100 metre and 800 metre finals) have been made available for public booking online. Before we get to the sporting public, there are at least groups of spectators who have priority: first, the global rich, second the families and hangers on of the London organisers, the Olympic sponsors, and the IOC committee members, and third, the purveyors of corporate hospitality. In the press, a best guess has been commonplace to the effect that only one third of the tickets for the prestige events have gone on general sale.

While the runners of the Real Relay have been objecting to the bogus nature of a running spectacle in which three-quarters of the distance is not being run at all, other critics of the Olympics have been at pains to point out two further blemishes of the Torch relay. First, rather than originating in some distant Olympic past, the idea of a torch relay agoes back only to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and was an invention of Nazi propagandists, temporarily enthused by the idea of connecting their regime to ancient Greece. Second, while the London organisers have publicised the torch relay as a tribute to 8000 of the most generous or the bravest of people, it turns out that at least 1200 of the tickets were handed over to corporate sponsors, and have in turn been cascaded down to various corporate executives, regional salesman, managers in allied companies who negotiated deals favourable to the donating company, and not least of all, Lakshmi Mittal, Britain’s richest man, and his son.

Whose streets? The bosses’ streets

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The first physical evidence of the Games Lanes can now be found in London; including Olympic rings painted on the streets, and road signs reading “Olympic route only”. My August mornings and evenings, and those of tens of thousands of my fellow Londoners, will be spent queuing for hours waiting for congestion to ease on busy underground platforms. Already the tube system feels vulnerable, with tube trains stuck by network flooding, and passengers being walked to safety through deserted tunnels. There has also been the first bus workers’ strike after 94% of drivers voted for action in a ballot (every day they go on strike, the workers promise, they will increase their demand for an Olympic bonus by £100).

Focus inevitably turns to the wretched Olympic Route Network (ORN), under which 30% of the London road network has been entrusted to the London organisers. Traffic lights are to be held indefinitely on green, and extra parking spaces allocated, all so that (at least in theory) athletes and officials can have the best possible access to the Games.

Certain details of the ORN are among the most closely-guarded secrets of the London Organisers.  You see, for the duration of the Games, a large majority of the athletes are going to eat, sleep and exercise in the Olympic village. Even the Royal Olympian Zara Phillips, who is hardly short of a spare London residence or 10, has been persuaded to stay for the duration of the Games in East London. If the purpose of the Games Lanes was really to get the athletes to Stratford without difficulty, then why is there a concentration of Olympic routes in the vicinity of Hyde Park? It is not a sporting venue, nor is it a place where any of the athletes will be living, it is however the location of the most expensive hotels in London…

And if the point was to protect the senior bureaucrats of the Olympic world, the IOC only has 105 members, and there are only around a dozen or so senior officials in the London Organising Committee: but we are told that 20,000 permits have been issued for the Games Lanes. Even if each IOC member was bringing with him or her a small army of brothers, sisters, children, cats, dogs and second cousins, that wouldn’t fill up more than a small portion of the permits issued.

The suspicion has long been that the London Organising Committee (LOCOG) has allocated the majority of the Games Lane permits to the 1200 “sponsors” (i.e. regional salesmen, corporate chums, and the occasional plutocrat)  who were invited to run the Olympic torch relay, and to several thousands non-sponsors who have block-booked corporate holidays in London through the various official and semi-official ticket touts.This, the London Organisers have repeatedly denied, maintaining that the ORN is for bona fide work purposes only and the global mega-rich are being kept out.

Now Jaques Rogge, the head of the IOC, has intimated that the Organisers have not been telling the full truth., and the main beneficiaries of London’s traffic chaos will indeed be the sponsors. This is what he told the Standard, “There is always a return to be given to the sponsor foe the financial support that Locog gets. The return is the people they can show the Games to…”

In this respect, as in every other, the London games are a gigantic scheme for making life easier for the rich, and mucking it up for all the rest of us.

17 June: still time to sign up

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I’ve had half a dozen runners, of (I think) possibly quite differing standards, offer to join me this Saturday running the Green London Way (route above in green) from Cambridge Heath to Stratford. To recap, for anyone who missed my original post: Bob Gilbert’s book The Green London Way has been in print for 20 years. It contains a series of walking routes around the edges of London (or at least around the edges of zones 2 and 3), taking in rivers, canal and tow-paths, abandoned railway lines, urban footpaths, parks and common land. It is a Green and Red guide to London’s history, taking in urban riots, protests for public access to the land, polluters, strikes, etc.

The idea of running this stretch of The Green London Way was suggested to me by Mark Perryman, a fellow runner, the founder of Philosophy Football, and a contributor to this blog. On Friday July 27, while the Olympic nobs are attending the Games’ opening ceremony, Mark is organising an Alternative Olympic Party at the Rich Mix in Bethnal Green. A poet, a singer and a photographer have already walked the above route. Mark has invited me to run it myself and report what I see. I am particularly looking forward to getting a sense for myself of how much of the Olympic Park is still open to the public (the answer may well be not much).

I will be starting at 3pm on 17 June at Cambridge Heath station. Expect four miles or so of urban London at a gentle pace (c9-10 minutes per mile) depending on who joins in. Dear reader; would you care to join me?

The Workers Olympics of the 1920s and 1930s; not subordinating Play to Sport

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As we near the Olympics, and (more to the point) the various events in London which have been planned to satirise the Olympics’ supposed fixation on the body beautiful, this is as good a moment as any to look at the content of the anti-Olympics events of the 1920s and 1930s, which embodied a different balance of play and sport.

Kruger and Riordan’s The Story of Worker Sport opens with a brief resume of the scale of the Worker Olympics, the most prestigious events emerging from the Worker Sports tradition: “In 1925, a year after the Paris Olympic Games, 150,000 workers attended the first Worker Olympics at Frankfurt am Main. In 1931, one year before the Los Angeles “official” Olympic Games at which 1,408 athletes competed, over 100,000 workers from 26 countries took part in the second Worker Olympics at Vienna. More than a quarter million spectators attended the Vienna games. Five years later, in opposition to the 1936 Nazi Olympics at Berlin, a more grand Worker Olympics was planned for Barcelona; however, it never took place. The Worker Olympics easily surpassed their rival, the bourgeois Olympics Games, in the number of competitors and spectators and in pageant, culture, and new sports records.

In a chapter on the German Workers Sports movement Kruger describes the Frankfurt Workers Olympics of 1925 as follows: “The first Worker Olympics took place in the newly built Frankfurt stadium in front of 150,000 spectators. At the opening ceremony, a choir of 1200 people sang, giving the sports festival a cultural content. In a festive drama presentation, 60,000 ‘actors’ took part in the ‘Worker Struggle for the Earth’. The winning German women’s sprint relay actually beat the world record (the achievement was unratified because it was not sanctioned by the IAAF). All participants were required to take part in the cultural festivals, and all were permitted to compete in individual events to stress the performance of the general athlete rather than the specialist…”

Athletes from 19 countries took part in the games. The message of the games was “No More War”, with the red flag and Internationale replacing national flags and national anthems. Alongside sporting events there were performances of poetry and song, chess contests, lectures and art.

The games were a complex fusion of the collective and the competitive. As the example of the sprint relay shows, at the top end, athletes were serious about competing to the best of their physical ability. But even at this competitive end, there were subtle difference between the Worker and the bourgeois Olympics: a greater emphasis on plebeian sports (such as weightlifting) and non-sports (chess, hiking) and on activities which while sporting were really there for show and could only awkwardly be fixed into a competitive sports model (gymnastics).

Women were of course welcome (in contrast to the bourgeois Olympics, at which they were barely tolerated).

The priorities were co-operation in alliance with competition, and participation rather than spectating.