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Andreas Whittam-Smith: We won the Games – but we lost our dignity


I hope the London Olympic Games will be a big success. I am pretty sure they will be. On the other hand… On the other hand I strongly object to the way the International Olympic Committee (IOC) insists that countries bidding for the Games give the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement precedence over national laws. That is why the first task facing the Government seven years ago, following London's selection, was to go to Parliament with proposals for legislation that would give the IOC what it wanted. And the result – the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 – is the origin of most of the arrangements that we most dislike, such as the complete reorganisation of London traffic together with special lanes for the benefit of IOC members, sponsors and assorted hangers-on.

Essentially this is a form of blackmail. If you want the Games, the IOC says to bidding countries, you will have to provide us and our friends with a variety of privileges, from luxury hotel rooms to trouble-free travel across a busy city. These demands have very little to do with securing the smooth running of the Games themselves. They are perks.

In the UK, so far as I know, professional sports people and teams get to their venues on time without special traffic arrangements. If the traffic is busy, you make an early start. It's not a big problem, is it? Especially as the athletes are housed in the Olympic village from where they can easily walk to the venues where most of them will perform.

Nor is the United Kingdom short of legislation that enables the control of traffic. There are 40 different pieces of current legislation that relate to the use of roads. You would think that with this range of powers, the country could manage to provide the transport facilities needed by the Games. Manchester got by when hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2002. Everybody involved in the tennis championships at Wimbledon gets there in good time each year without special traffic lanes.

As for the regulation of advertising, which involves draconian restrictions that prevent any firm other than a sponsor from using words and images even remotely connected with the Olympics, try common sense again. As a country, do we have widespread problems with protecting brands? It has been a long time since anybody could have got away with the unauthorised use of, say, "Marks & Spencer" in their advertising. Nor could I set up as "Marks & Spencer newsagents".

Effective legislation is in place to prevent this sort of thing. But this is not good enough for the IOC. They say that major advertisers would not support the Games without special protections, but I don't notice any absence of advertising at, say, major football matches or Formula One motor racing, where no such conditions are demanded.

Lacking in self-confidence, knowing how short they are of the skills necessary for their roles, wondering when they are going to be re-shuffled out of office or whether the electorate will soon kick them out, there is little for which our ministers would stand firm. When they carelessly accepted the IOC's terms, they behaved without dignity and humiliated this country.