Olympics: Who foots the bill?


London’s Olympic Games bid: Who foots the bill?

YOU CAN’T move anywhere in London without seeing an advert backing the
Olympic bid. With representatives from the International Olympic Committee
(IOC) due to visit London next February and the final decision to be taken the
following July, there will be plenty more advertising to follow.

Chris Newby, Hackney

Whilst this isn’t the most important issue facing workers in Britain, it is
an issue that demands attention. Although public backing for the bid has
fallen it still stands at 69% support in London and 76% in Britain as a whole.
For many Londoners, particularly in the four boroughs most directly affected,
a successful bid could be seen as the only way of securing much needed
improvements such as transport, more housing and jobs.

In the plans, organisers talk about converting 3,600 athletes’ apartments
into "affordable" housing (although starting at £80,000 this is still too
expensive for many first-time buyers) and converting the Olympic polyclinic
into a "lifelong learning centre" incorporating nursery, primary and secondary
schools (although who will be running them and at what cost?). The transport
plans also involve dramatically improving the rail and tube network in London.

East London is in desperate need of regeneration with unemployment on some
Hackney estates at 35%. Newham has the highest level of coronary disease, TB,
diabetes and mental illness in the country. But it’s also important to see
what other effects a successful bid could have.

The bid alone costs £20 million. It includes plans to concrete part of
Hackney marshes (a huge local sports area) as well as knocking down 450 houses
and flats.

Even if the games were to make a small loss on the scale of Sydney,
considered to be the "most successful games ever", every London council tax
payer would have to make a one-off payment of £187 to cover this. This doesn’t
include a council tax increase to help cover the original cost of the games at
£2.37 billion.

The Athens Olympics has now cost nearly Û8 billion, double the original
budget. The cost overrun has pushed Greece’s budget deficit above the eurozone
growth and stability pact limit for the second successive year. The right-wing
New Democracy government is now cutting public spending and holding down wages
in response.

Many of the 35 new venues built remain empty. The main stadium alone is
costing Û100,000 to maintain each year.

Labour hypocrisy

It is hypocrisy for Labour to talk about regeneration when they have
continued to attack sports and leisure facilities. Under Tory and Labour
governments 6,000 playing fields have been sold off in the last 20 years.

In the last ten years 50 recreational sports facilities have been closed
and councils are facing a £500 million repair bill for the remaining
facilities. Is it any wonder that the number of children judged overweight has
increased seven times in 30 years to 30%?

The IOC is riddled with corruption. It’s also an organisation that puts big
business interests first. In Seoul, Atlanta and Sydney, thousands of poorer
families were evicted from their homes to make way for the Olympics. In the
drive to complete all the building work necessary for the Athens games 40
building workers died.

Even with all these negative aspects there will be a lot of expectation and
excitement about the Olympics coming to London. I don’t think we should oppose
the bid outright but should demand that there is real consultation with local
people in the areas most affected.

All transport improvements should be funded by central government and not
by increased fares as Mayor Livingstone intends. All workers connected with
the games should be paid at least a minimum of £8 an hour with no worker being
forced to work more than 35 hours a week. Proper health and safety standards
must be enforced.

All housing built for the games must be turned over to publicly owned,
genuinely affordable, housing.

All sporting facilities and access to the games should be made available to
local people with free entry for some groups e.g. school students.

We should demand a programme of transport improvements, council house
building and sports facilities that are accessible to all who want to use them
regardless of whether London wins the bid or not. This should be paid for by
extra funding from central government.