The scenes of wild British rejoicing in July 2005, when it was announced London would host the 2012 Olympics, have faded and been replaced by visions of doom. Once the games begin, the sheer beauty of the sports will take over, but for now, most media attention is given over to threats, to chaos, to failure.
The day London celebrated in 2005, four British Islamist terrorists killed 52 people in four different bombs attacks, three on the metro system, one on a bus. Seven years later, the shadow still hangs heavy. The security arrangements include sharpshooters, missiles and, most recently, 3,500 soldiers called in because the security provider, G4S, was found last week to have failed to deliver the necessary number of trained guards.
Britain does grumbling as well as any country: It’s hard to find any Londoner who does not use the word “chaos” to encapsulate what he or she thinks will happen to London’s traffic and public transport from late July through August. Residents have been encouraged in that view by signs everywhere on the metro warning that “this station will be very busy during the Olympics.”
There is also a class-war dimension – which is never far from British debates. Special traffic lanes are being created down which VIPs will be whisked to and from the stadiums, in limousines lent by BMW. “What about the rest of us?” is the response of choice to that piece of obliging the noblesse.
In polls, most non-Londoners think the Olympics won’t benefit them, with the Scots and the Welsh especially sure of that (though they’re looking forward to the games themselves). In a survey done last week by Reuters, most economists agreed that the UK economy might get a temporary boost but no lasting benefits and would run the Olympics at a loss, as Athens did in 2004. Even in London, there’s a dispute about how far the vast works undertaken in East London to build the stadiums and the Olympic village will benefit the poor borough where they’ve been sited, one third of whose inhabitants are immigrants, many recent arrivals and many quite poor.