Tag Archives: London Olympics

On watching sport

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More people want to watch sport, but when this desire interacts with inequality of wealth and access, the result is that fewer and fewer people are allowed in. No event illustrates this more neatly than the recent London Olympics. As the London Metro reported yesterday:a vast operation was at work to make sure that the most desirable tickets were kept out of the hands of ordinary spectators and reserved instead for corporate sponsors.

Only 3% of tickets for World number 1 Novak Djokovic’s opening match in the tennis went on general sale, with the vast majority going to sponsors. Less than half of the tickets for the cycling went on general sale; most of those that were sold were kept in the “top” price bands of £150-£325. LOCOG promised to keep half of all tickets in every event affordable (ie under £20).  This target was missed for every single sport with the sole exception of the unloved Olympic football.

The problem is hardly restricted to London 2012. The increasing rigours of work in an age of austerity mean that the vast majority of people are too time-poor to do anything with sport but watch it. Indeed, we watch sport from further and further away. Here, as so often, football shows the way to all other sports. Check old photographs of the crowd at the Hillsborough FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989 and you will see something as distant to our time as Arkwright’s spinning machine which launched the Industrial Revolution; a football crowd composed of people in their early 20s or younger (37 of the 96 dead were teenagers).

In the modern Premiership of £2000 per year season tickets, few workers under 30 can afford to get in. The average spectator watching Premiership football live is now in their mid-40s. Younger supporters make do, not with watching games live in the flesh but watching them on television, not with scanning free-to-view programmes but with satellite channels, not on ordinary subscriptions but on pay-to-view tariffs. Supporters are driven to scouring the internet for clips of goals, even though they are mere fragments of games.

No sport is exempt from this dynamic of holding the spectator at further and further remove from the action. Live Test cricket is banished to satellite television, so are the Cricket World Cups. Watch the footage of West Indies’ victory at the 1975 World Cup Final at Lords and you will see an audience, young, mixed in terms of both race and gender, responding jubilantly to every boundary. You will not see the young or the poor at the 2013 Ashes not when ticket prices start at £80 per day.

For football in particular this banishing of the spectator is extraordinarily self-defeating. Take away the intense passion of its supporters and football would be just another sport, as well-paid and as culturally significant as handball or darts.

Force people physically away from live sport, and their ability to grasp it is diminished. Their perspective is narrowed and flattened. In the women’s 800 metres finals at the Olympics, the consensus of those who commentated on the event was that Caster Semenya could and would have won gold if only she had started her final sprint 50 metres earlier. It was the judgment of people who followed the event on a screen, focussing (as the camera does) on the action at the head of a race, not on those – like Semenya – struggling at the halfway point to keep up with the early leaders. Watching live sport gives invariably a broader canvas, a better chance than technology ever allows to peer back from the moment, to view the whole, to see the runs at the side of the action, to grasp tactics and the personality of all the players.

Late capitalism refuses to allow both a broad perspective and the intimate view that you can only get in the flesh.

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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.

Reasons to demonstrate on July 28; number 10: the workers

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pic: Mena solidarity

In their ballot, 94% of Unite bus drivers voted for strike action. Unfazed by this evidence of overwhelming support, three bus companies, Metroline, Aviva and London General obtained High Court injunctions to stop the strike. I gather that the injunction was far from entirely effective, even within these three companies. Elsewhere, more than one bus depot saw over 100 workers join the picket lines. The bus drivers’ demands are satisfyingly modest. In return for the longer hours bus drivers will face, and the stress of having to drive buses filled with the several million tourists expected in London for the Olympics, the bus drivers are seeking merely a one-off Olympic bonus of just £500.

Anyone who has been inside a London bus depot will know that these are among some of the most run-down workplaces in London, showing every sign of chronic underfunding. The buildings are decayed, training opportunities are minimal. Staff salaries average at around £20-£25k, and this in a city where the average one-bedroom house sells for £317,000. Yet Transport for London is not a struggling business; last year it paid 400 of its executives over £100,000.

Bus drivers are not the only London workers to find themselves struggling in the shadow of the Olympics: you can add to the list delivery drivers for the main catering companies (banned from taking holidays during the Olympics), private security guards (whose salaries are determined by a contract in which the contractors gets to keep £2 for every £1 pound by which they can reduce their hourly rate below £10, and anyone working in the vicinity of the Olympic hotspots (i.e. anywhere in zone 1).

This may explain why among the sponsors of the Counter Olympics Network demonstration on July 28 can be found 6 of London’s trades councils: Brent, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Lewisha, and Waltham Forest. More details below: