London: not alive with the spirit of the Olympics

In a story on its website, the BBC proclaims that “the capital has come alive with the spirit of the Olympics.” Apart from reading like it was copied from a London 2012 press release, it’s just not true.

Small parts of the capital have come alive with the spirit of the Olympics. Crowds turned out today in parts of central London to greet the torch. I passed the South Bank yesterday – and there were, as the BBC journalist says, plenty of people having themselves photographed with the mutant Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville.

But the truth is that across most of the capital, you’d hardly know the Games existed. I cycled to Marlow yesterday – including 20 miles through a very wide cross-section of London – keeping a careful eye out for Olympic bunting and suchlike. Apart from the South Bank, all I saw were some banners on lamp-posts. There were no amateur efforts at all. During the Jubilee, and for weeks afterwards, it seemed like every third or fourth house or shop was decorated in some way. For the Olympics, they just aren’t.

Even where I live, in Greenwich – with one Olympic venue 300 yards from my door and a second only a mile away – there is virtually nothing: lamp-post banners again, another big one on some railings and some traffic restrictions. Two or three houses in my neighbourhood have Union Jacks on them. But that is it. And at 8pm today, the centre of Greenwich was far, far quieter than on any normal hot and sunny Thursday evening.

The beautiful irony for us Olympisceptics is that the Games themselves have done far more to stamp on people’s enthusiasm than we ever could. There’s always been a substantial minority – around 42 per cent according to recent polling – which is excited by London 2012. But the organisers have created a sealed corporate garden from which even the vast majority of these people are excluded. For the last month, the message going out from the authorities to all would-be visitors has been: stay away! It’ll be a transport nightmare! The reason there are so few banners in windows is that shopkeepers and householders fear being zapped by the Olympic brand cops.

The emperor’s-new-clothes brigade is out in force tonight – the Guardian newspaper, for instance, has excoriated Olympisceptics as “at the margins, out of touch and just plain wrong,” claiming that “87 per cent are to one degree or another up for the festival.” The evidence for this turns out to be a poll which finds that 87 per cent of will watch the Olympics on TV at some point. Given that it will take over the BBC’s main channel, BBC1, almost 24/7 for the next fortnight, it would be hard not to see the Olympics on TV. Alas, the Guardian forgot to report that, according to the same poll, only 26 per cent intend to watch every day and a total of 45 per cent intend to watch only once, twice or not at all. (Interestingly, for all its bullishness, the newspaper’s website front page has a button allowing readers to hide all Olympic coverage – perhaps a sign that they’re not quite as confident as they claim?)

In any argument, getting called names is always the clearest possible sign that your opponents have no real facts to back up their case. The facts are simple enough to establish. Go into the streets, look around and tell me whether this is a city and a country alive with the spirit of the Games.

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