Tag Archives: London 2012

Reasons to demonstrate on July 28; number 1: the legacy

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The Olympic bid – is anyone still celebrating?

The Olympics came in under Labour’s watch. They were supervised by a Labour Prime Minister, and a Labour Mayor of London. In lots of ways, their presentation was as a social democratic Games. In London’s Olympic bid, two themes stood out. The first was that the world was already in London; and that this most diverse of cities would put on a multicultural games. The other element was “legacy”: more people would do more sport if the Games came to London rather than Paris. More working class communities would gain more amenities than if the Games went elsewhere.

The problem is that the Games have concentrated opportunity upwards, diminishing the chances open to the majority.

Even Sport England reports that fewer young people are doing sport in Britain now than in 2005; and this is not surprising when you consider how the Olympics has resulted in a marked decrease of funding for non-elite sports. It is extraordinary to think that with the Atherton leisure closing there are now fewer sporting facilities in the Olympic boroughs than there were when the bid succeeded.

As for other opportunities, arts funding in London generally is down, as the Cultural Olympiad gobbles up resources which were not previously the sole reserve of tourists.

The East End has seen a population transfer as high land prices have caused landlords to evict poor private-sector tenants, and the East End boroughs have solved their housing waiting lists by moving families out of the borough, and in some instances out of London altogether.

Newham teenagers meanwhile are subject to a dispersal notice banning them from their own borough.

So what will Newham residents get from the Games? The only tangible benefit that most people will see, even Locog is increasingly willing to admit, is the Westfield shopping centre: a giant, enclosed private space, claustrophobic, and run in a paranoid manner, and full of top-end fashion units, which won’t be there 6 months after the Games ends.

The lack of any positive legacy is another good reason to demonstrate on July 28:

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.

The neo-liberal Games

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Far from embodying some timeless ‘Olympic spirit’ the 2012 games will reflect the injustice and inequality of the current economic system

Long before John Carlos stood beside Tommie Smith on the podium at the 1968 Olympics, he was a boy growing up in Harlem. “When I first learned about the existence of the Olympics”, he recalls, “my reaction was different than anything I had ever felt when listening to baseball or basketball or football or any of the sports that I’d seen people play in the neighbourhood. The sheer variety of sports, the idea of the finest athletes from around the globe gathering and representing their countries: it was different, and the fact that it was every four years made it feel like an extra kind of special.”

The origins of the Olympic wonder lie in Pierre de Coubertin’s struggle with the French sporting authorities, and in the Olympic Charter, with its promises “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

The London Olympics however have always had a much narrower set of ambitions. One of the five promises made in the original Olympic bid was “To demonstrate that the UK is a creative, inclusive and welcoming place to live in, to visit and for business.”

Welcoming business has meant that the 4700 medals being given out at the event have been struck from gold, silver and bronze donated by Rio Tinto, mined chiefly from metal from its Kennecott Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, USA. But according to the “Greenwash Gold 2012” website, Rio Tinto’s mining operation has generated air pollution causing between 300 and 600 deaths in Utah each year.

The games’ main “sustainability partner” will be BP, responsible for the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, during which some 200 million gallons of crude oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico, poisoning fishing stocks, endangering birds and other wildlife, and putting tens of thousands of fishermen out of work.

BP is also one of the companies involved in extracting tar sands from Canada, a process that destroys forest, wastes untold volumes of fresh water, causes illness in mining areas, and is already responsible for around 10% of all of that country’s carbon emissions, with production set to increase continuously over the next decade.

Junkfood companies sponsoring the games include Trebor and Cadbury’s. Meanwhile, right in the heart of the athletes’ village, the London organisers have authorised building the world’s largest McDonalds. Another company hoping to be associated with the health and vigour of the athletes is Coca-Cola, the sponsors of the Olympic Torch Relay.

The day the London bid succeeded, there were cheering crowds in Stratford. Many local people, not perhaps unreasonably, expected that the games would lead to the significant regeneration of their borough, which is one of the poorest in London. Far from it: the closure of the borough’s only public swimming pool, in the Atherton leisure centre, means that there are fewer sporting facilities in Stratford, not more, than there were in 2005.

Stratford has seen no significant spending on housing, schools, or other social infrastructure. A vast shopping centre has been built, the Westfield, and the tube station has been redesigned to drive residents into it. But the shopping centre is marketed at Olympic tourists with budgets to purchase luxury goods. Who really believes that Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Versace, De Beers, Tateossian or Tiffany will still be in Stratford in 12 months’ time?

All over London, small but popular local green spaces are being shut in order to make space for the games. This April, the Olympic Development Agency obtained an injunction to exclude local residents and protesters from Leyton Marsh, to facilitate the building of a basketball practice area. The building was unnecessary, as there were several alternative disused sporting arenas within 30 minutes of the Marsh, which could simply have been refurbished. It has involved substantial building works which have taken over what was a much loved community space. The developers refused to engage with local councillors who began asking questions about the use of the site 6 months before the building work began.

The Olympics organisers have identified traffic “hotspots”, which are likely to be congested during the games including Canary Wharf, London Bridge, Kings Cross and Paddington. But the sports administrators themselves are going to be protected from the worst of the congestion. For three weeks from 25 July, large parts of the central London road network will be closed to all but Olympic dignitaries and their hangers-on. There will be ‘Games Lanes’ for accredited vehicles which will receive preferential traffic signals and fines will be imposed on other vehicles driving into them. The dignitaries themselves will have access to specially-built, chauffeur-driven BMW cards.

The British Library will be opening 30 minutes late each day for the duration of the Olympics, to cope with anticipated staff shortages caused by traffic disruption. Other businesses are being told to anticipate journey times being extended by over an hour during the games.

The total cost of the Olympics is £12 billion (of which the bill to general taxation is £11 billion). This figure rises to £23 billion however when all construction costs are included. These are fantastic sums of money. By way of comparison, during the last London Olympics in 1948, the total budget was just £600,000. While prices have risen generally roughly 30-fold since 1948, even once inflation into consideration, the “real” cost of the Olympics is still 1000-times more than last time London hosted the games.

Despite this extravagance, there has been no significant pick-up in terms of local or London employment. The one area where the organisers are recruiting is for security guards. But although a large number of them will be recruited (around 10,000 people altogether), the work will be precarious in the extreme. Most contracts will last just 2-4 weeks. Salaries are low (£10 per hour), and the main contractor G4S has negotiated further bonuses if it succeeds in reducing the hourly rate.

The recruitment of large numbers of guards chimes with the general tendency, under neo-liberal economies, for spending on policing to increase while spending in health and education falls. The Olympics’ contribution to London policing has already included the use of pre-emptive banning orders (“Olympic asbos”) against supporters of the Leyton Marsh campaign, and the deployment of armed police officers to transport hubs.

The organisers of London 2012 will be able to call on 13,500 ground troops, several typhoon jets, Puma and Lynx helicopters, and two assault warships, HMS Ocean, and HMS Bulwark, the first of which will be stationed in the Thames throughout the games.

Meanwhile the relatively low wages paid to Olympic security guards contrasts with generous salaries paid to Olympic managers, sixteen of whom are being paid in excess of £150,000 per year. Seb Coe, chair of the organising committee, receives a starting £350,000 per year, but his full benefit rises to more like £600,000 per year when bonuses, image rights, and his Olympic-associated work for various private companies is factored in.

Inevitably, the London games have been subject to protest. Several Occupy veterans joined local residents in the Leyton Marsh campaign. Various coalitions have formed, including a new Olympic Project for Human Rights (“OPHR”), backed by the RMT-union, which has invited Smith to speak at London’s Friends Meeting House on May 21, and a Counter Olympics Network (“CON”), which has called a day of action on July 28.

Sports begin in the most basic of human responses, the pleasure of running, jumping, testing your own reflexes and those of the people around you. But the sports business is escaping from these moorings. All over the sporting world, we see the same phenomena: declining access to public land or to other free facilities to enable people to participate in sports directly, declining opportunities even to watch sports live (supporting sport is decreasingly done even in sports arena, but via television, increasingly on pay-per-view satellite television), increasing ticket prices, increasing salaries for sports stars and sports administrators, a tendency for sport not merely to mirror the worst excesses of private capital but to be used to give allure to some of the most controversial of businesses.

The London Olympics is merely the grandest expression of neo-liberalism’s unhealthy involvement in sport.

(first published in Red Pepper, June 2012)

London 2012: good or bad value for money?

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When Seb Coe spoke to London’s bid to host the 2012 games, he justified it in simple terms. Choose London, he said, and more people would take part in sport than could be achieved by any of London’s rivals. “Choose London today and you send a clear message to the youth of the world: more than ever, the Olympic Games are for you”. Choose London, he also said, and more would be done for less than could be achieved anywhere else.

Since London’s victory in 2005, there have been some attempts to keep an eye on whether these two promises have been met. The London Organising Committee (LOCOG) publishes annual accounts, and there has been some Parliamentary scrutiny of the organisers, mainly through the House of Common’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

It now seems clear that there will be no significant increasing in sporting participation as a result of the games. In 2008, the last government set Sport England a target to increase adult participation in sport by a million by March 2013. The Department for Media, Culture and Sport (who share LOCOG’s panglossian instincts) told the PAC in March that they believe sporting rates have increased by around 100,000 over the last 4 years (i.e. net sporting participation has gone up by less than 1% ). LOCOG’s publicity says as little as possible about adult involvement in sport, although there are frequent references to the number of schools who have been sent Olympics merchandise (a cynic would suggest that this has also been a cheap way of disposing of tens of thousands of items marketing the main Olympic sponsors).

All across Britain, local authority funding cuts are leading to a gradual degrading of Britain’s sporting infrastructure. Facilities, which are ageing, are not being replaced. A number of pools, tracks, etc are simply being closed.Campaigners have called on the Olympics organisers to intervene in support of threatened facilities but the celebrities on LOCOG’s board have declined to do so. This was even true of the Atherton leisure centre, the only council-run sports centre in the Olympic borough of Stratford, which was originally closed at the end of 2011, and then re-opened on a skeleton basis only until June 2012, without the merest peep of protest from Lords Coe, Moynihan, or any of the athletes on the LOCOG committee.

In terms of cost: the London Olympic bid was for £2 billion, of which, it was said, the majority would be raised from the private sector. Some £700 million has indeed been raised from the private sector, for which the UK sponsors (placed into three tiers according to the services than can expect from LOCOG) will gain significantly in terms of brand awareness etc.

As for the total cost to the public purse, this has increased from £1 billion (in the original bid) to £11 billion according to the latest PAC report.

The Public Accounts Committee is critical of a number of decisions LOCOG have taken, but I will focus here on just one. Between 2005 and 2011, the organisers budgeted for 10,000 security guards at a cost of £282 million. In late 2011, a decision was taken to increase the number of guards to 23,500 at a cost of £553 million. LOCOG, with two Tory peers on its organising committee, chose to give the contract for the additional guards to G4S, a business which has a track record of granting well-remunerated but low-effort non-executive directorships to former politicians. “There is no evidence”, the PAC writes, that “the Government has secured any price advantage” from renegotiating this contract.

In other words, although you might have thought that buying services on this massive scale would lead to a price reduction, the Government and LOCOG, appear to have accepted the first offer that G4S put to them.

Don’t assume that the workers will benefit from LOCOG’s largesse. In a letter sent by Seb Coe to the Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee, in January 2012, LOCOG spelled out how G4S’ contract will work.

904 managers are going to be employed at G4S’ Olympic Project Management Office. Their pay levels will be subject to relatively modest scrutiny. As for the 16,000 or so security guards to be provided by G4S, they will be paid just £10 per hour. And G4S are “incentivised” (in their contract with LOCOG) to “identify saving opportunities in labour costs”. IE if some of this can be outsourced, and agencies can be found who will pay less than £10 per hour, G4S will to keep the profit.

I’ll write in a separate post about what the Olympics have been worth to the LOCOG committee members; but suffice to say that – seen in the round – the Olympics appears to be developing into one of those exercises, of which we are all drearily familiar, by which large sums of public money are used to protect the wealth of those who are already fabulously rich.

Olympism

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As London 2012 rolls ever closer, one theme which will become more prominent is the abstract internationalism of the Olympic Games. The Olympic Charter promises “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

I am grateful to Gareth Edwards of the Inside Left blog for pointing me towards John Hoberman’s Towards a Theory of Olympic Internationalism, which sets out a compelling theory of where this internationalism comes from, and how we get from the waffling idealism of Baron Coubertin to the fascism of the 1936 Olympic games and of the postwar Olympic administrators (including, but not only, Samaranch).

Hoberman points out that the early twentieth century saw a number of movements that promoted a message of international fraternity and that their politics ranged from conservative nationalism (eg the Scouts) to socialist internationalism (eg the second interntaional) with all sorts of intermediate positions (eg Esperanto).

The 1936 Olympics stands as a first moment of crescendo in this story; with a group of French nationalists (including Coubertin himself) using the event to promote a reconciliation of France and Germany on the basis of the latter’s politics. In the aftermath of the Games, Hitler paid Coubertin a grant of 10,000 Reichsmarks and put the Olympic founder forward for the Nobel Peace Prize.

There are lots of other treasures in the piece, including an account of the pedigree of the fabulously corrupt Kim Un Yong, about whom I’ve written before, who turns out to have been a Moonie with an interesting backstory in Korean “anti-Communist” circles. But I can’t do better than encourage any readers of this blog to read Hoberman’s piece themselves.

Exiting with dignity

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I will always associate Vienna 2012 with the solidarity shown by those running in aid of Iranian workers. For the press, a different story was at stake, the staggered half marathon race between Haile Gebrselassie and Paula Radcliffe, billed as the Emperor versus the Queen, which the Ethiopian runner won easily (too easily: he made up an eight minute deficit by15k).

Gebrselassie is by universal acclaim a fantastic athlete: a double Olympic gold winner over 10k, the winner of 4 world indoor and 4 world outdoor championships over a range of distances from 1500 metres up to 10k. He is also kind, courteous and genuinely modest. He was on Radio 5 a few months ago. None of the main presenters have even a passing knowledge of distance running, yet he charmed the entire studio. He remains an outstanding athlete; his time at Vienna was 60 minutes for a half marathon. He will not be competing at London 2012, simply because he has the misfortune to be competing against a brilliant generation of younger Ethiopian runners. In 2012, nineteen Ethiopian men have surpassed Gebrselassie’s best recent marathon time of 2 hours 8 minutes. (By comparison, the fastest UK finisher at the 2011 London marathon, Lee Merrien, came in at 2 hours 14).

Paula Radcliffe has run the three fastest three women’s marathon times in history. Her closest competitor Liliya Shobukhova has a best time of 2hr 18min 20; thirty-eight seconds slower than Radcliffe’s third-fastest time of 2hr 17min 42sec; and three minutes behind Radcliffe’s best ever time of 2hr 15min 25sec. She, Radcliffe Gebrselassie, will be at London. However, she seems to be 10 years past her peak. It is a long time since Radcliffe won a really top race, and few people seem to give her any real chance of winning at London. Her defeat at Vienna, where she had to be comforted by Gebrselassie is being taken as further evidence of her decline.

Radcliffe doesn’t seem to be a very popular athlete in Britain. You have to look right in the corners of the press coverage to see what the press think of her: a perfectionist, driven (too much so?), over-influence by her husband, who is also her coach. It is almost as if people have not forgiven her for her defeats at Athens, etc.

Both Radcliffe and Gebrselassie would be capable of competing as veterans should they so choose. Twenty years ago, most athletes -irrespective of their sport – seemed to peak at 26 or so and then decline rapidly thereafter (certainly neither McEnroe nor Borg got far past that milestone), and if better nutrition and sports science have pushed that milestone a couple of years back (just think of the longevity of Roger Federer) the frustrating reality remains that even marathon runners, with all their slow-twitch muscles, which are supposed to go more slowly than fast-twitch muscles of a sprinter, decline as they age.

 This injured ex-runner, 12 months Radcliffe’s senior, wishes them both well.