Dave Zirin | August 12, 2011
And so they played beach volleyball in small bikinis; on imported sand; while the world burned.
It ai'nt exactly Shakespeare, but it is actually what happened earlier this week as the London Olympic Committee staged a beach volleyball exhibition as fires engulfed the city.
Opening Ceremonies for the London Olympics are in less than a year and this week’s explosion of bottled fury has the International Olympic Committee on edge. Even worse for Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, the riots took place as representatives from 200 Olympic Committees across the globe visited the city, just in time for the days of rage. Can you imagine the scene? It would be like Michele Bachman and her 197 children visiting New York City and walking straight into the Gay Pride Parade.
As Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics said, “There’s no doubt that this is a very bad day, a worrying day.... Olympic organizers in London planned to protect London from conventional terrorism. But of all the things they might have thought might happen, I’d be surprised if civil insurrections was high up on their list of expected risk factors.”
The knotty problem however is that the Olympics - courtesy of Tony Blair's Labour Party - aren’t a parallel operation to the mass civic unrest but an aggravator. As social services wither, the Olympics will cost upwards of 20 billion pounds and the Olympic torch has acted as an instrument of arson. Ask the residents of Clays Lane Estate, in East London. Clay’s Lane Estate was the largest housing cooperative in the UK, and the second largest in all of Europe. Over protests, Clay's Lane was demolished to make way for Olympic Facilities. The protests haven’t been heard, and we get riots, or, as Dr. King put it, “the language of the unheard.
But much of the political class choose to hear nothing. London Mayor Boris Johnson rushed back from holiday to say, “In less than 12 months we will welcome the world to a great summer Games in the greatest city on earth – and by then we must all hope that we will look back on these events as a bad dream.”
Tom Jenkins, the European Tour Operators Association executive director, sniffed,“I don’t think the rioting will impact the Olympics. The Olympics is, overwhelmingly, a domestic event. British people won’t be put off from visiting the Olympics in Stratford because a year earlier shop windows were broken in Hackney.”
Former Olympic great, and current Olympic flak Lord Sebastian Coe even called everything this past week, “Business as usual.”
But the many others are far less confident. Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder in the marathon said, “In less than one year we welcome the world, and right now they don't want to come.”
The question now is whether the IOC will demand an even more severe police crackdown to ensure that the games will be run according to plan.
The IOC told us at the Nation that they will keep completely out of any security arrangements altogether. Andrew Mitchell, Media Relations Manage of the IOC emailed, “Security at the Olympic Games is a top priority for the IOC. It is, however, directly handled by the local authorities, as they know best what is appropriate and proportionate. We are confident they will do a good job in this domain.”
This assertion has left many rolling their eyes. Bob Quellos, an organizer for No Games Chicago, which helped keep the Olympics out of the Windy City for 2016, said to me, “Simply, what the IOC wants, it gets. In London next summer, the IOC will be dictating the level of police repression. Billions of dollars have been spent on the security. London's Olympic Park is already a highly militarized zone protected by barbed wire, dogs, and armed patrols.”
Chris Shaw, the author of the book Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games, points out, based on his experience in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Games, that the harassment would only get worse."[As the games approached] the Charter [their Constitution] went out the window for the duration of the games; People were followed and harassed. Reporters were deported and cops were acting like reporters.”
This has certainly been the case for previous Olympic festivals as well. In other words, every historical precedent points to an increased crackdown in the months ahead, which will only further fan tomorrow's flames. We have a collision coming between the Olympic Monolith and the poor, angry youth of Great Britain. Conflict is ensured if David Cameron’s ultimate response continues to be, “Let them eat beach volleyball.”
Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.