It’s been a week since Danny Boyle’s £27 million Olympic opening ceremony and I believe that out of the £9 billion this Olympics is costing the British taxpayer at the time of the worst recession since the great depression, the opening ceremony was the greatest value for money we are going to see over the 17 days of “the greatest show on earth”.
Things didn’t look good for the Olympics weeks before they even began. Because of the delightful process that is Olympic sponsorship you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Olympics had been handed to McDonalds in 2005, but they had generously leant them to London in return for every possible advertising space in Britain from now until the end of time (which if you believe the Mayans is only the next few months so swings and roundabouts really). Then because of the overwhelming ineptitude of G4S, the army was called in to guard the Olympic stadiums in the biggest mobilisation of troops since the Second World War.
Although Olympic safety was in jeopardy, we could still look forward to the huge boost in the economy that the Olympics would inevitably bring. However, despite initial claims from Boris Johnson and MPs across the political spectrum, the Olympics could have a rather harmful effect on the UK economy with many once busy tourist areas currently deserted. Bernard Donoghue, the chief executive of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, claims that visitor numbers are down 30%-35%. Take a stroll down Oxford Street and you will see the clear impact the Olympics has had on visitor numbers. Whereas two weeks ago walking down the street was like being involved in an international rugby scrum with an audience of baffled tourists flicking through maps in side streets, you can now freely hopscotch your way around shops with only shop assistants there to question your sanity. But surely all the tourists have not disappeared but have been sucked to the Olympic park? Well no; the British Olympic Association is in the middle of a wave of public outrage at the huge number of empty seats at nearly every Olympic event, although surprisingly the women’s beach volleyball is not suffering the same problem. On Saturday 29th July 12,000 seats were left empty, currently around 20% of seats remain empty. And when the public do actually tune in to Team GB the athletes are subjected to a barrage of online abuse courtesy of Twitter, whether it be targeted at Tom Daley’s deceased father or the aesthetic qualities of Rebecca Adlington.
So how else was this Olympics promised to be great for Britain? Medals. That’s right, as un-British as it may seem we Brits were determined to win as many medals as possible and we truly believed the home advantage would get us there, however we are currently fourth in the medal tables (that’s the same as we managed in Beijing) with less than half as many as the ever dominant China. In fact, as the men’s 250 km cycling proved, every other nation seems more focused on Team GB losing than on winning themselves.
So taking into account Olympic Branding, harm to the economy, the fact we barely win anything and the way east London looks like it’s under military occupation you’d think I was against the whole event. However, I was incredibly impressed by Danny Boyle’s efforts last Friday and it almost turned me pro-Olympics. Despite the inevitable Paul McCartney rendition of Hey Jude, I thought the whole event was quite unique. I’m no nationalist and it takes a lot to make me patriotic but I do also believe that we are largely shaped by our community. The opening ceremony reminded me of the many achievements of Britain which none of us can take personal responsibility for but which as a community we can take great pride in having achieved. However some do not feel the same way; Tory MP Aiden Burley dismissed the opening ceremony as “leftie multicultural crap”. In my opinion, Burley is a fool attempting to make headlines. Personally, I was surprised by how apolitical the night turned out to be. The only possible link to being “leftie” as Burley so eloquently put it is was the celebration of the National Health Service. However, no political point was made with regards to the NHS, only that it is a world leading institution that provides quality care which is free to all. Something all politicians should agree on is that when put into a global context the NHS provides care that is relatively inexpensive and of a high standard. A 2011 study by The Commonwealth Fund looked at 11 economically developed nations and found that British care was one of the best performing and the third cheapest. Whilst this clearly does not mean that the NHS is in no need of reform, it does mean that it is a symbol of British excellence that should be praised at an event such as the Olympics.
So what of the multiculturalism that Burley so despises? Mr. Burley comes from an area with an ethnic population of around 3%, England as a whole has an ethnic population of around 12% and London has an ethnic population of over 40%. In 2010, around 56% of live births in London were to mothers born outside of the UK. Britain is a multicultural nation; however Mr. Burley appears to be out of touch with the reality of modern Britain. What a surprise an MP who was caught attending a Nazi themed party is behind the times with regards to multiculturalism. Some may defend Mr. Burley saying that as he is from such a non-ethnic area he should not be expected to be aware of the racial makeup of London. Some reports suggest that by 2050 well over half of Europe will be from a non-white background, many studies also put this reality for London as much sooner. This means that ignorance is no longer a valid excuse, especially when you’re an MP. As an MP Mr. Burley should spend a great deal of time in London and it is about time he woke up and looked around. Whilst the Palace of Westminster may be a sea of white faces, if Burley would only look outside he would see a modern city which is a true melting pot of nationalities.
It would seem Mr. Burley is out of touch, but he saves himself with this great piece of back peddling: “we had all these rappers – that is what got me to the point about multiculturalism”. Whilst, I must admit, I wasn’t counting rappers at the opening ceremony when I look back I can only remember one. Dizzee Rascal sang parts from his song “bonkers” in a section that was devoted to modern teenage life in London. Mr. Burley also said “Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones” which confused me a little, why is a local rapper who is relatable to young people in London and indeed Britain somehow substandard to the heavy drinking hard narcotic taking Rolling Stones who I bet the vast majority of young people have never heard of? I would also like to point out that the opening ceremony managed to fit in several choirs, Paul McCartney and a catalogue of British musical achievements through the ages which included the Stones, but apparently all that was ruined by the presence of one black rapper.
So if the actual games are taken out of the equation, this Olympics is going to be extremely beneficial to the UK by portraying all the things Britain is truly great at and all for just £27 million. Unfortunately sport probably isn’t one of those things, and you probably do have to take into account the £9 billion games that followed…oh well, at least Aiden Burley managed to teach us all a lesson in life; at the opening ceremony of an event at which 204 nations descend on a city that is already the largest melting pot on the planet, don’t be critical of multiculturalism!