The 2012 Summer Olympics will be held from July 27 to August 12. While the Games bring athletes together in spectacles of sport, it will also bring another spectacle. As with other host cities, London will likely see crippling debt, a specter of gentrification and militarization and a profitable relationship with Olympic sponsors that are some of the worst corporate criminals and human rights abusers.
Most Olympic host cities get racked with enormous debt. For example, it took Montreal 30 years to pay off the $2.7 billion it owed from hosting the 1976 Olympics. One of the factors that helped fuel the current Greek economic crisis was the $11 billion spent on the 2004 Games, an amount that nearly doubled the originally proposed budget. So, it should be no surprise that after the Games are over, London will be stuck with a massive bill despite setting aside £9.3 billion ($14.4 billion). This is especially galling given the budget cuts and austerity measures already enacted and being proposed by UK leaders.
As the Olympics loom, English housing rights activists are decrying the Games for heightening the already existing housing problems in London. Some tenants near Games venues have reported massive increases in their rent when re-signing leases and/or temporary rent increases for the duration of the Olympics. Others have reported attempts at eviction so landlords can make a hefty profit. But it isn’t just landlords that are engaging in evictions. Residents in certain housing developments have been told by the local governments to vacate their buildings because they will be demolished as part of an Olympic “beautification” effort. These people have not been told about any possibilities of a guaranteed right of return if and when the housing is rebuilt.
There have also been other attempts at gentrification via the police. Prior to the arrival of the Olympics, London police arrested sex workers in disproportionate numbers in areas where Olympic venues and activities would be located and have begun cracking down on brothels near Olympic venues. By cracking down on these institutions, many sex workers have been forced into the streets which created a much more dangerous environment for their health and safety. Such harsh police pressure has made sex workers fear arrest if they come forward as victims of a criminal offense that occurred while working.
The police have also been given expanded powers to deal with possible “undesirable” people or activities. Certain areas around London have become “dispersal zones” which allow officers to remove people for soliciting, begging or loitering. Police are telling activists that they must clear protests with police officials. Any protests that are not appropriately reported to authorities beforehand may face immediate removal. Furthering belief that the goal is to marginalize protest, London police announced preemptive arrests for people they suspect may disrupt the Games and courts have banned certain people from being near any Olympic events.
Authorities have also been given wide latitude to protect the corporate image of the Olympics and its sponsors. Under the London Olympic Games Act of 2006, police may seize items that put down the Olympics, even if they must enter a private home. It also allows the security forces to deal with businesses that are not official sponsors but have advertising deemed objectionable. The protections go above and beyond current copyright law in England.
The Games have good reason to want to try to protect the image of their sponsors because they are some of the worst human/labor rights abusers. Allegations have arisen that Adidas utilized sweatshop labor to make some of its Olympic uniforms. BP, a company being called an Olympic environmental sponsor, perpetrated one of the biggest environmental disasters with the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But most the most notable have been the protests around Dow Chemical. Members of the Indian Olympic team threatened a boycott over Dow’s relationship with the Olympics as Dow has still escaped accountability for the Bhopal gas disaster.
Over 23,000 police/military will be present for the Olympics. More UK soldiers will be patrolling the Olympics than will be serving in Afghanistan. The overt militarization can also be seen in the sonic weaponry used in Iraq that will be on scene, the surface to air missiles present on rooftops of apartment complexes, facial recognition software, cameras, and checkpoints. The surveillance equipment will not disappear after the Games end.
International sporting events don’t have to exacerbate social inequity. But it is up to us to reclaim them. We can have sporting events that uplift the human spirit. But we must take back the world of sport for the causes of truth, freedom and social justice because while we may always and rightfully remember some of the athletic feats we’re sure to see during the Games, the impacts of the London Olympics will be around long after.