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Recession dents Olympic fever

By Shilpi Chakraborty
June 7th 2012



With the economy slump gripping households in Britain, Shilpi Chakraborty outlines the dearth of excitement ahead of London Olympics due for July 29 opening.

It is big. It is huge. It is colossal. And it draws closer with each passing day. Come 29 July, the spotlight will fall on London when the grandest sporting event of the world unfolds.

Bejing raised the bar to stage the Olympics. London has their work cut out for them if they have to match the success of 2008 Olympics. London hosts the Olympics after 64 years. The city’s last time was 1948, when Britain was still recovering from World War II’s devastation. The show was appropriately called the Austerity games. Hosting the games at that time cost £ 600,000.

This time, despite the economic crunch, the government pumped nearly £ 9.3 billion of public funds into the project. By the time the games kick off this summer, this budget may cross £ 11bn. That is a huge amount of tax-payers’ money.

Locog, the Games’ organisers are leaving no stone unturned to whip up the Olympic fever among Londoners and rest of Britain. How successful have they been in inspiring people, specially the youngsters, considering the Games’ slogan is ‘Inspire a Generation,’ is a question everyone asks.

According to pollster YouGov, British people, especially those living outside London, are divided over their interest in the Games. Forty eight per cent of Londoners say they are excited to be at the heart of the things, while 49 per cent say they are not bothered.

Subho Bandhopadhay and his wife Claudia Gonzalez Burguete, live very near to the behemoth Stratford Olympic stadium in East London. They have been planning their Olympics itinerary for over a year now. Subho says, “It is an event of lifetime for us. It is the Olympics, after all. Who knows where the next one will be held, and whether it would be feasible for us to travel there. Now that it is being held in London, it is a boon. We wouldn’t miss the opportunity at any cost.”

The couple is thrilled for their chance to be present at the stadium to watch the Games, and happier that the London Olympics has helped regenerate East London, the poorest part of the city. Without the games, they feel this part of London would not see development at all.

They bought tickets for the basketball, football and hockey matches, and are angling for a few more. Says Claudia, “Even if we lived in Leeds or Liverpool, we would drive all the way to London to watch few of the events.”

The icing on cake for Claudia is that she will perform in the opening and closing ceremony of the Games, “Things can’t get bigger and better than this,” she beams a smile.

It is hard to find similar enthusiasm among other Londoners. Skepticism runs high among people, and they do not hide it. Says Patrick Rippon, a business man, “I know it’s a matter of honour, and it might be beneficial in the long run, but I am not sure whether it is worth the hassle now. Apart from the public money going towards it, the city will have traffic disruptions and congestion in the city. London will be a mess.”

As you move further away from London, you are not sure how many people really care about the Olympics. According to YouGov poll, 45 per cent of British people generally say that they are interested; 53 per cent say they aren’t.

Dave Atrill, an upcoming writer who works at an Engineering firm in Leeds, says, “I would rather watch the games from the comfort of my home or at a local pub, rather than going all the way to London. With youth unemployment touching all time high, I think youngsters have other worries in their minds. A ticket to the finals of the archery competition is going to set me back by £ 200. I don’t think I can afford such frivolous expenditure.”

John Duke, a retired Navy personnel and a sport enthusiast from Sheffield, echoes the feelings of many Sheffield residents, saying, “I know Olympics is huge. To get the show on the road is a challenge in itself. It is a great opportunity to showcase Britain in all its glory. But at a time when the country is going through financial crisis, is it worth it? Lot of taxpayers’ money is involved in this project. It costs ‘us’ a lot of money, especially in security.”

Securtiy bill for the Olympics has risen sharply. Earlier, Locog estimated that 10,000 security personnel would have to be deployed in and around venues. Now the figure has more than doubled. Venue security costs have shot from £ 282m to £ 553m. In December 2010, Locog inked a deal worth £ 86 m with G4S, the company responsible for security of London Olympics and Para Olympics, but just after a year they had to rewrite the contract due to increased security provision and the bill footed by G4S shot up to £ 284.

Lottery system to buy tickets has irked many too. Kate Martson, a medical student from Sheffield University, says, “I think people have been very disappointed by the lottery system; you had to register for a race, were encouraged to apply for several to hedge your bets and increase the chances of being successful, but if so you were committed to buy whichever you ‘won’. Many of my friends were put off from applying in case they were actually successful and ended up having to pay several hundred pounds.”

Kate also adds, “I don’t mind taxpayers money going on Olympics. It is a great bonus for the country to host such a massive event and I felt proud that all the hard work of the sports people paid off when we won the bid. It is disappointing how little the rest of the country (outside London) has been involved. It strikes me as half-hearted.”

Fanck Henot, a building maintenance supervisor from York, says, “I wish the French had won the bid for the Olympics. The games have strained the nation’s economy which is already in a perilous condition.”

The Olympic torch has started its 8,000 mile journey around UK, and will reach the Olympic stadium in London on 27 July. Local city councils are pitching their bit in to spur excitement among the people. The Olympic flame will reach Leeds on June 24 before continuing its journey to Sheffield. The Leeds City Council is expecting thousands of people to line the torch route through Leeds and take part in the special one-off evening celebration. The Millennium square’s big screen in Leeds will telecast the Olympics and Paralympics in its entirety.

Keeping in mind the London 2012 Olympics slogan, ‘Inspire a generation’, the schools in UK have been trying to generate the students’ interest in sports and other physical activities, and create an Olympic atmosphere. Over 200 schools in Leeds are engaged in the Olympics project ‘Spirit Alive’ that gives students the chance to lead, manage and deliver a mini Olympic experience in their schools.

Despite dearth of a feel-good factor among the public, some ardent Olympic enthusiasts are not letting any negative elements bog them down. Anna Muscroft, who works at Online Computer Library Center, applied for tickets through the ballot system, but failed to get any. She was so desperate to be a part of the event that she signed up as a volunteer. “I am so happy that I am, in some way or the other, going to be involved in this huge project. It will be a long time before our nation gets to host the games again, and I am going to make best of this opportunity,” says Anna.

Janita Maaranen, a mother of two children, traveled all the way from Sheffield to London to take part in the audition to perform in the opening and closing ceremony of the game which took place last year.

A spirited Janita, who is a seasoned salsa dancer, says, “We had two auditions. There were more than 10,000 people who auditioned for it. I found out in January that I was chosen. I was ecstatic.” About 15,000 are expected to take part in the Olympic and Paralymic opening and closing ceremony watched by an estimated audience of four billion. Janita has been taking part in grueling rehearsals in London. “I travel to London to take part in the rehearsals which last more than five hours. It is exhausting. But the thrill of performing in the London Olympics beats it all.””

Some events like running, cycling and triathlon are free to attend, but most people, living outside London, say that traveling to the capital means shelling out hefty money for accommodation.

Whether the London Olympics will boost the UK economy, inspire the young generation to take up sports or other physical activity, only time will say. For now, organisers hope that as the d-day draws nearer, the whole nation will be in the grip of Olympic fever. After all, it is a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity to experience a home Olympics, and a matter of honour.

About author: An experienced feature writer, Shilpi Chakraborty worked in publication houses like The Sentinel (Guwahati), and The CTO Forum (Mumbai) before moving to UK five years back. Now she lives in Sheffield and works as a freelance writer.

Originally published by The Thumb Print (A Contemporary Magazine)

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