Tag Archives: corruption

Jeremy Hunt’s Olympics

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It is a late summer evening, and the Leader settles into the back seat of the Olympic BMW which the Games Organisers have kindly provided. He or she is Kabila perhaps, or Mugabe, or Myanmar’s Thein Sein. Beside the Leader sits a senior official, whose task is to protect the Leader from any unwelcome publicity. “We will be meeting the British in half an hour”. “The Queen?”, the Leader asks with a smile. “No, the Minister in charge of the Olympics, a Mr” (the official searches through his papers, “Hunt”. “I have read about him”, the Leader responds sourly, before asking, “now … should I let myself be photographed shaking his hand?”

Most British politicians in the past decade have been willing assistants to the Murdoch empire; it takes a special character to be caught so flagrantly in the act.

2012 wasn’t supposed to be like this. For the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP it was meant rather to be a glittering step on the way to high political office. At the start of March, the Telegraph was still tipping Hunt to be a future Leader of the Conservatives, and the minister would not have blushed when the paper described him as enjoying the “best job in government”.

Hunt’s main priority, in that interview, was to stake a personal claim to credit for the Olympic Games, in which his department of course has barely any role whatsoever, save for oversight and scrutiny of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG), that fantastic quango, which has been able to turn £2 billion of public money (its original budget) into £11 billion of public money (its present spend) and counting.

Hunt’s Department, far from restraining Coe, Moynihan and their chums, has done everything in its power to shield LOCOG from criticism – playing the same “old pals” game, that he was previously playing with Murdoch’s BSkyB bid.

This is how Hunt described his Department’s role in preparing the Games, “We have put a huge amount of thinking into what we call, in the organisation of the Games, ‘the last mile’. It’s basically the distance between whatever public transport you arrive on and actual entry to an Olympic event, and we want to make sure that it’s as clearly sign-posted and as pleasant an experience as possible.”

And this Hunt speaking about his own role in the Games: “I am obsessed not by what people say about me now, but what people will say about what I’ve done in office when they look in 10 years’ time. The curse of modern politics is that too few politicians get to leave a real legacy. If I could deliver a fantastic Games for the country, along with people like Seb Coe, who are doing such a fantastic job; if I could deliver super-fast broadband to most of the country by the end of this Parliament; if I’m able to help bring in a new era of local TV companies; and if we can weather the most incredible financial storm since the Second World War, then I’ll be able to look back on this period and feel incredibly proud of what I’ve done.”

Local TV companies: whatever Hunt does, this is not going to happen. (The plan will break on the centralising tendencies of the British economy, which for the past 30 years have been dragging resources and talent, repeatedly, to London).

End of recession: it will happen. All recessions in history have ended. Parts of the country (the richest 1%) have never even been in recession. If you look at the balance sheets of the FTSE 100, the companies are cash rich. The only distinctive thing about this recession is that the very rich have used it to take more money out of the majority’s pockets than any previous recession since 1914.

Faster broadband will happen (Moore’s law) whatever Hunt does or doesn’t do.

The only interest in all this guff is Hunt’s reflection on the Olympics which he modestly describes himself as leading “along with people like Seb Coe”.

I have many criticism of Coe, some of which I’ve written about previously, others of which I’ll post about over future weeks. But Coe is working on the Olympics full-time, which is likely to mean 60-70 hours a week. As for Hunt … I’ll be surprised if the Olympics have taken up as much as an eighth of his workload. He is not the Games’ organiser nor their planner. He is supposed to be the gatekeeper, a role he has singularly failed to play. He is not the organ-grinder, he is barely even the monkey.

Meanwhile, David Cameron (whose constitutional role includes upholding the Ministerial code, and ordering investigations when it is breached) has proposed that a decision as to whether or not to investigate Jeremy Hunt should be taken only after he has been before Leveson at the end of May. But Leveson is making an inquiry into the future of the media, and has no role at all to consider breaches of the ministerial code. Hunt is a barely a sideshow to the inquiry (this is one reason why Murdoch was asked so little about him).

So Cameron’s initial decision is that Hunt – arguably one of the worst of all the wretched ministers this country has suffered in the last thirty years – may be investigated, but not before the summer at the earliest, by when (Cameron no doubt hopes) press coverage will have turned elsewhere.

Assuming Hunt survives, we will return to the spectacle of the Olympics: the Murderers meeting Rupert’s Apprentice. If I was Kabila or Mugabe I would shake Hunt’s hand and smile in admiration.

Re-reading ‘The Lords of the Rings’ in 2012

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The original anti-Olympic text, this book tells the story of the build-up to the 1992 summer Olympics at Barcelona. Some of the account, of course, is now dated. Reading about the gifts given to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) committee members in the bidding rounds of the late 1980s (a gardening book, Swedish handicrafts, various silk scarves), what strikes is the relative modesty of the gift-giving. The successful bid for the 2002 winter Olympics was secured by largesse on a grander scale: $3million (or roughly $30,000 per IOC delegate) in cash, “scholarships” and plastic surgery, and the scale of the graft since then has no doubt become more extreme.

A key figure in the book is Juan Samaranch, then 12 years in to a 21-year stretch as President of the IOC. Illustrated with pictures of its protagonist wearing the blue shirt of a regime loyalist, the book showed that Samaranch had spent the preceding 25 years as a middle-ranking official in Franco’s fascist regime. Jacques Rogge, the present incumbent gets a single mention in the index, as a junior figure in the Samaranch machine, promoted without distinction in 1991. Rogge lacks any of Samaranch’s malign charisma; the worst that can be said about him is that he has tolerated the return to the IOC of the very officials who were slated for taking bribes from the 2002 bid.

One episode which astonished even me was the account of Giovanni Evangelisti’s bronze in the long jump at the 1987 World Championships, achieved by judge Tommaso Aiello placing the measuring prism in the sand at a medal-guaranteeing distance of 8.38 metres before Evangelisti had jumped. This mission appears to have been carried out at the instance of Primo Nebiolo, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, and one of Samaranch’s closest allies.

It wasn’t always this way. Evangelisti’s predecessor had been Adriaan Paulen, a former Dutch Resistance fighter who dressed frugally, and travelled as cheaply as possible. Repeatedly offered trinkets: shoes, footballs, he insisted on never taking anything. “Once you have been brought”, Paulen said, “you are never free again.” 

Particular companies recur through the story, as being especially brazen about using the Olympics to promote their brands: Coke and Adidas in particular. Simson and Jennings record than in 1968, following complaints about the commercial rivalry between Puma and Adidas, and the attempts of shoe manufacturers to keep “amateur” athletes on their payrolls, the IAAF voted that all future athletics competitions athletes would be required to compete in shoes without branding or any marks to identify the manufacturers.

The decision has clearly lapsed, judging by the announcement that British athletes will be equipped in no fewer than 70 items each of Adidas kit. Some of these athletes of course are already sponsored by rival kit manufacturers. These unfortunates will have a dilemma ahead of them: it is a condition of competing for team GB that athletes wear Adidas branded clothing on the track and (if they succeed) on the podium. Should they refuse to wear the clothing of their present sponsors, they could find themselves in breach of contracts running into the tens of thousands of pounds. Should they wear Nike (say) over Adidas, they can expect to be pursed with as much vigour as the drug cheats and banned presumably from future competitions.

A history of corruption; a future in which the global competition of brands displaces that of the athletes: Samaranch would be proud of his creation.