Perhaps, before Olympic madness seriously sets in, we could quietly drop the much-repeated mantra of the Games, "sport for all". The events of this week have made that principle seem a touch silly, maybe even hypocritical. Far from providing what Lord Coe has called "a symphony of inspiration that will create lasting change", the London Olympics, along with English football's Premier League, have been offering a stirring overture of financial exploitation. The true motto of the moment is "sport for maximum profit" and, as one has come to expect, it has been those least able to afford it who are being exploited.
When the Government proudly announced that expenditure on London 2012, having been increased, would now come in under budget and that almost half a billion pounds would be returned to the Treasury, it omitted to point out that much of the cash had originally come from the National Lottery. In other words, a neat little transfer of funds has taken place, away from the Big Lottery Fund, which supports communities across the country at a time when they need it most, and into the coffers of the Government, via the London Games. It is, as Jay Kennedy of the Directory of Social Change has said, "an utter outrage – and verging on money laundering".
Another version of the same tune has been played in the world of football, where the Premier League clubs have just become massively richer – once again at the expense of the poor old consumer. Selling television rights for £3.018bn, the Premier League has increased its earnings since the last round of negotiations by a cool 70 per cent. The league's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, who had the grace to be somewhat abashed by the scale of the deal at a time of recession, inevitably trotted out a few Coe-ish platitudes about how some of the money would trickle down to smaller clubs and into the wider community.
The argument that, as the hugely rich spectator sports become even richer, the better it is for the rest of us, is utterly bogus and unconvincing. Athletes, footballers and other sporting heroes can indeed inspire future generations, encouraging them to take pleasure from competition and exercise, but only if the money earned at the top is genuinely shared around.
Instead we see, both in the milking of Olympic money from the Lottery and in the profitable business dealings of the Premier League, a very 21st-century version of sporting excellence. A small number of fortunate people make vast fortunes out of the rest of the population, who sit plumply in front of a television or computer screen.
The Olympics and the best of football should inspire the young to run, jump, ride and play for a fuller life. Instead, thanks to their ruling bodies, they are being encouraged to be spectators and, even more important, consumers.Reuse content