Saturday, 3 August 2013

I Love The Olympic Stadium. I Hate The Olympic Stadium.

By Shane Thomas

I love the Olympic Stadium.

I love the sheer majesty of the arena. I love that Britain has something approaching its very own sporting citadel. I love how after the shambles that was - and is - Wembley Stadium, the Olympic Stadium was proof positive that this country is capable of building high-profile arenas on time, and on budget.

I love the sense of reverence you can feel from people as they make their way to the stadium. An intangible feeling of being part of something that's bigger than themselves. I love the piquant aroma of positivity that seems to emerge from the place - as if it was a perfume counter dispensing happy thoughts - making all who are in it feel a little more optimistic about life.

I love the way the stadium has been assembled. I love the sightlines, which give pretty much every person in the crowd a clear view of the action. I love the way the stadium is framed when the floodlights are turned on. It's a truly beautiful sight.

I love that despite Britain's obsession with football, the Olympic Stadium has given track & field athletes the opportunity to display their own sporting brilliance. I love that in all the wrangling over ownership of the stadium post-Olympics, the running track will remain. I love that the world's best athletes will return to the arena in 2017 for the World Athletics Championships. Make no mistake, without the Olympic Stadium (and its running track), that would never have happened.

I love that it was the setting for the greatest day in British sporting history (yes, even better than England winning the World Cup). I love that it's now a space where Paralympic athletes also feel comfortable, and know that it can be as much their arena as it is for able-bodied athletes.

I love the helpfulness of the staff, and the impressive efficiency with which they dispersed the best part of 60,000 people after Friday's Anniversary Games, showing that health & safety, and politeness aren't mutually exclusive.

I love how it provided the space for Usain Bolt (arguably the biggest showstopper in sport since Muhammad Ali) to cement himself as one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen[1].

I love that is has managed to cut through the cynicism that tends to be de rigeur for many people in Britain. It has fostered an environment where one can show the best of themselves without being on the receiving end of supercilious sneering. I love that it gives the next generation of athletes a place to aim for. The ghosts of glory laid down by Bolt, Ennis, Farah, Rudisha, Cockcroft and Weir are an intangible inspiration to young children, both at home and further afield.

Most all all, I love that it's a place where one believes that special things can happen.

I hate the Olympic Stadium.

I hate that despite the Olympics being a haven for corporate sponsorship, 94% of the funding that went towards building it actually came from the state.

Despite the running track remaining, I hate that it was necessary for a football team to take over the stadium to stop it becoming a white elephant.

I hate that if one looks around the stadium, the majority of crowd will be white, and from the sounds of many accents, also upper & middle class. As journalist, Mark Perryman recently said, there were plenty of black and brown faces. They were on the track performing for the white folks, and serving them in the stalls.

I hate that in the aftermath of the Olympics, talk of transforming London's East End was empty PR talk. I hate that one of the local boroughs, Tower Hamlets, now has 55% youth unemployment.

I hate that LOCOG put the stadium in an area of London that was in dire need of regeneration, only to price many of its citizens out of participation, and trampled over local businesses. Regeneration ended up looking more like gentrification.

I hate that the stadium has followed the maddening penchant that we see in many other arenas. More concerned with "making it a day out for the casual viewer", rather than trusting in sporting excellence to entertain, the prices for food & drink are obscene, and the tannoy emits an incessant dirge of chart music, because heaven forbid that a crowd would be able to generate their own atmosphere. This is all part of an ever alarming trend to turn sport into something we watch, rather than something we do.

I hate that the Olympic Park has been renamed the "Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park". I hate that the obsequiousness shown towards British monarchy has barged into the positvity generated from the London Olympics, as if there was a connection between the Royal Family and great sport (a Royal Family that we fund, lest we forget). I hate how this name change has gone unquestioned.

I hate how politicians have tried to piggyback the brilliance of what took part in the London Olympics. I wonder if it's lost on them that they may be there to watch the likes of Jessica Ennis, Perri Shakes-Drayton or Christine Ohuruogu, yet have implemented policies ensuring that working-class athletes will find it increasingly difficult to follow in their footsteps.

I hate how the government used the Olympics as a diversionary shield from its policies which are disenfranchising its working class, immigrants, people of colour, and trans*citizens. I hate how they can't - or won't - see that the efforts & methodology that went into putting on the Olympics can be replicated in other aspects of government to benefit the country, such as education, health, or transport.

And I hate that for all the legacy talk, there were no concrete plans to ensure that the Olympics benefited Britain beyond London 2012, lessening the chance of there being more glorious occasions like last summer. I hate that in the event of Britain becoming a less successful track & field nation, attendances are likely to fall at future athletics events. I hate that while some like the Olympic Stadium, many more like it only if it includes British winners.

So, the Olympic Stadium? It's safe to say I'm pretty conflicted.


It's good to see Channel 4 continue to screen Parasport, even after the Paralympics were over. Even though I wished they would have put the IPC World Championships on their main channel, their coverage of it, as well as Sunday's edition of the Anniversary Games, and their upcoming coverage of the IPC World Swimming Championships demonstrates a long overdue commitment to give Parasport athletes a space for them that able-bodied athletes have had for years.

However, there something about their coverage that does irk. Often during a race, the commentators, with the exception of John Rawling, refer to any athlete that's not British by their nationality. So, we hear endless cries of, "The German, the Kenyan, the Croatian etc...".

I totally understand that British coverage of a global sporting event will lead to a top-heavy delivery in favour of domestic athletes, but you would think that one would have the respect to at least know the names of the competitors from other countries. It's not as if they haven't got them on a piece of paper right in front of them as they commentate.

And if they don't, then that would make their preparation amateurish. So, Channel 4 should order their commentators to take the time to learn the names of all the athletes, or get some people in who will.

[1] praying to every god that there is that Bolt's success hasn't been due to performance enhancing drugs.

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