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Well, we are saddled with the Olympics

Posted by Helen Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Hizonner, the Mayor of LondON, has got his wish and has been grandly thanking everyone for supporting him in his efforts to bring this unwieldy, expensive and corrupt event to London.

We, who will have to suffer from the ensuing chaos, started but unfinished constructions, endless shut-downs on the tube, not to mention rocketing council tax, hope that Hizonner will now, in a spirit of solidarity, move back to London to share the joys and pains and, above all, the expenses. Who wants to be in Brighton when the excitement of the Olympic Games overwhelms the capital? The Mayor of LondON, that’s who.

The same applies to all those other endearing personalities: Mr & Mrs Blair, who will, no doubt escape to their well-deserved freebie holidays in the next few years, Mr & Mrs Beckham, the male of whom looked more fatuous than usual grinning in his white track suit. (Where was she? No idea. Who cares?)

And dear old Lord Coe? Will he live through the next six-seven years with us in London? Will he pay the higher taxes for decades afterwards? (Note please that Montreal is still paying for those Games of 1976.) Unlikely. He will appear from time to time to cheer the people on and retreat to wherever he spends his time.

Now look at it from the Olympic organizers’ point of view. Some of the teams must be wondering what on earth got into the IOC. London has no stadium. Where, oh where is Wembley Stadium?

Nowhere really, unlike the Dome, which is there, costing money, doing nothing. That, too, was once upon a time a great opportunity for somebody or other, mostly Our Tone, to parade his credentials as a forward-looking statesman.

London has an appalling transport system. Hizonner knows little about that. He uses taxis unless a camera crew happens to be around when he hops into the nearest tube train, regardless of where it might take him.

Mr Blair knows even less about the London transport system or about the traffic in London (at least that taxi must sometimes get into a traffic jam) as the roads are cleared when his limousine sweeps from Downing Street to Parliament or wherever he happens to be going.

Frankly, I cannot even begin to imagine how Lord Coe and Lord-Beckham-to-be travel.

The fact remains that the rest of us have to use what must be the least efficient and most expensive underground system in the world or hope that a bus or two turns up at the stop they are meant to come to.

London, of course, does not need any more tourists. We are overrun with them, anyway, for, contrary to the many idiotic statements about the Olympic Games putting it on the map, London has been on the map for some centuries. (When our history corner is started on the website, I shall write to Lord Coe and suggest that he reads it.)

On the other hand, experience in Australia and Greece shows that the arrival of the Olympic razzmatazz drives away the other tourists (as well as many of the local inhabitants). That is something in its favour, though whether the various hotel keepers and restaurant managers will think that is doubtful.

London’s record on building new things and staying within something vaguely resembling the original budget is not good. Think Crossrail, Wembley Stadium, the Dome.

So what is it that made the IOC decide in London’s favour? Of course, we do not know precisely what all that feverish last-minute lobbying involved but shall, no doubt, find out eventually, when the country’s debt skyrockets.

Let us not forget the African vote. The Chancellor has been playing fairy godmother with our money or, at least, promising to do so, just as soon as he can count the pumpkins in his home.

As things stand, we are about to hand over yet more whopping great dollops of our money to kleptocratic and bloodthirsty African dictators and, in return, we must assume they voted for London as opposed to Paris. After all, what did Chirac promise them? Well, now you mention it, the same thing as Brown promised: our money.

And finally, the most unexpected blow of all: Chirac’s supposed gaffe. We all wondered about the reason for that torrent of abuse of British food, compared to which even les hamburgers are haute cuisine.

I, too, went along with the notion that the old man has lost it. But I also thought that Paris lost it, too. Chirac’s attack ensured London’s victory.

Now I am not so sure. Whatever those pictures of sad Parisians might suggest, a goodly proportion of them must be breathing a sigh of relief for many of the same reasons that we are grinding our teeth. (Except that they already have a stadium and a functioning transport system.)

Could it be that far from blowing it, Chirac has won this round by making sure that the poisoned chalice of the Olympic Games passes Paris by and lands squarely in London? Zut alors, you can’t rely on anyone these days.