It was all going so smoothly. The stadium was built, the swimmers were waxed, the asexual, one-eyed mascots were deployed to terrify schoolchildren around the country. A formerly toxic and impoverished chunk of East London had been turned into a gleaming tomorrowland for shopping and eating, running and riding.
But now, less than three months before the beginning of the Summer Olympics, the wheels seem to be coming off. There are heated battles over missile deployment and VIP lanes and taxpayers’ burdens. As columnist Simon Jenkins put it, “The Olympics have become an Orwellian parody of what happens when a world agency blackmails a government aching for prestige into spending without limit.” He suggested that a tourist would have a happier time this summer in Baghdad or Kabul.
But in the face of such negativism, can we not take a lemon and make lemonade? Instead of escape, let’s have an escapade, and imagine how we might turn the Olympics’ troubles into new, revenue-generating events:
Dodge the Missiles: The residents of two buildings in East London became anxious when they discovered that the British government was planning to install surface-to-air missiles on their roofs, in the unlikely event that a low-flying terrorist aircraft needed to be shot down during the Olympics. (In which case, the game could be expanded to “dodge the flaming debris,” with the bonus that no medals will likely be required.) The missiles are named Rapier and Starstreaker, which sound like overpriced running shoes your kids are always begging for, so how bad can they be? Brian Whelan, the young whistleblower who first drew attention to the government’s plans, is being evicted from his flat underneath the planned missile sites, and will probably be sent into exile reserved for people who object to Governmentally Mandated Good Times. The Hebrides, maybe. Or Slough.
Outrun the Traffic Cop: Almost 60 kilometres of London’s roads, which are already as clogged as a bacon-lover’s arteries, will be turned into VIP lanes for the exclusive use of official sponsors and the 80,000-member “Olympic family.” (So many members! Perhaps Octomom was responsible for contraception in this particular family.) Ambulance drivers who take non-critically sick people to the hospital – kidney and cancer patients, say – are not happy that they will be barred from the lanes. But it’s all right: The people from Coke and McDonald’s won’t miss their events.
Jump the Immigration Queue: Chaos reigned at Heathrow, London’s main airport, for the past week or so, with travellers from non-EU countries facing waits of up to three hours to get through passport control – and that’s before the Olympics influx begins. At Heathrow, the Olympic motto has been temporarily changed to: Slower, Angrier, Drinking My Duty Free Scotch Right Now and I Don’t Care Who Sees. One irate passenger reportedly bolted from the line and attempted to dash past the border patrol desks; fortunately, Starstreaker missiles were not in use and he was stopped the old-fashioned way. This situation will likely only be resolved if more immigration officers are put in place – oh wait, the work force was slashed under austerity measures. Never mind.
Spot the Scot Who Gives a Toss: The Games are trumpeted as benefitting the entire U.K., but Scotland seems to think it’s nothing to do with them – just a wee bit of fun for the Sassenachs. Only 16 per cent of Scots thought the Games would be good for Scotland, in a recent BBC poll (and 64 per cent of people across Britain thought the Games were too expensive). London’s gold medal for obliviousness is once again in the bag.
Predict How Long Before the Anvil Falls on the Minister’s Head: Olympics minister and once-rising Tory star Jeremy Hunt used to have the sleek self-regard of the odds-on favourite to win a cat show. Two weeks ago, at an event marking the 100-day countdown to the Olympics, he said, “there’s no room for complacency,” while wiping milk from his whiskers. That, however, was before his cage was severely rattled by accusations arising during the Leveson inquiry into media and politics. Mr. Hunt, in his other capacity as minister for culture and media, appeared to have close ties to Rupert Murdoch’s empire.
Prime Minister David Cameron has resisted calls for Mr. Hunt’s resignation: to find a new Olympics minister at this stage would be disastrous. It would mean dragging some other poor politician into the fray at this fractious moment, branding him or her with the five rings (using an IOC-approved branding iron, of course) and hoping that would be the last of it. Come to think of it, it could provide a diverting new sport, or perhaps a tableaux for the opening ceremonies: Tossing a Lamb to the Wolves.