The Olympics - a corporate dystopia?

 
on July 29 2012 2:05 PM
The Olympics - a corporate dystopia?

It's fair to say I'm a bit of an Olympic sceptic. It's hard for me to believe in the Olympic spirit when it can only be mixed with Coca-Cola TM, and no other competing product. The associated nationalism strikes me as the last safe haven of the jingoistic. Often one of the reasons given for people enjoying the Olympics is that they get to watch sports they don't see any other time of the year and support their home nations athletes in the event.  They didn't much care for Archery, or Sailing before the event, and they won't after, but by golly, drape a flag over it and people will whoop and holler and try and bask in the reflective glory of an achievement that had literally nothing to do with them.

The current Olympics couldn't be further away from the Olympic ideal; of amateurs competing at fairly rudimentary exercises and events in genuine tests of sporting merit. These days it's more akin to a global branding and marketing exercise; for a City to open its doors to the world; for countries to measure their worth against one another, and most importantly, for companies to position themselves as brand leaders by association with the event.

But if this corporate dystopia is supposed to represent the best that mankind has to offer; I'm not Lovin' It. While the Olympic ceremony was going on; the police were kettling the participants of an organised and peaceful bicycle ride. When the Chinese acted similarly, we looked on, and tutted, and we polished our shiny fashionable 'Free Tibet' badges and congratulated ourselves on our Western superiority. Speaking of Bicycles, London's infamous 'Boris Bikes', have not been allocated any docking stations within even 20 minutes of the Olympic Arena - Barclays are not an official sponsor of the games.

This creeping corporate sponsorship might be more commonplace and accepted in America; and has its claws into Britain now too; but remains anathema to those of us who consider intrusion into our private sphere by corporations and companies at odds with the society we would like to live in. The nation cringed when St James's Park became the sportsdirect.com arena. We see our sportsmen line up on billboards advertising sports drinks or trainers and don't feel inspired, but a sort of resigned disgust that they are less athletes and sportsmen, and more celebrities and salesmen.

The dreadful way that the security has been handled in the run up to the event, with G4S failing to supply a contract to train and provide security for the events proving that entrusting security to the private sector is a folly of our capitalist culture that so encapsulates the whole event. The empty seats in the stadiums that are reserved for the 'Olympic family' - if ever a group of corporate schmoozers less deserved such a sycophantic collective term - bely the fact that ultimate; this is not a show for the people despite all the talk of 'Legacy'; and beyond the rather sickening displays of patriotism it's impossible to separate the event from the economics.

And yet despite all this there's a little part of me gnawing away that knows when people ask me in 20, 30 or 40 years time what I did when the Olympics were in London while I was there, that saying "I worked at Charing Cross, and had to commute through the traffic and the tourists and it was a bloomin' hassle" just isn't going to be an acceptable answer in a long term context. For all its ills, it is indeed, once in a lifetime event and I'm beginning to wonder whether rather than just be surrounded by a never ending sea of Americans in baseball caps; I might not be better just picking up the odd ticket to go and see something; and see if the bug bites.

Give me another two weeks; and maybe my next article might be entitled "How I learned to stop worrying and love the Olympics". It might be buying into the worst of corporate culture, but after all,   the best things in life are free - for everything else, there's the Olympics.

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