The Last Word: London's legacy is a big fat myth
Furore over tickets and a British football team hides harsh truths of funding cuts and national inequality
Sunday 26 June 2011
Please spare us the middle-class whinges about the so-called "Olympic ticket farce". Oh dear, so you wanted to watch Usain Bolt win the 100 metres and will instead have to watch Uzbekistan go through to the second round of the water polo. Welcome to the world of the modern sports fan. Where the stuff on the bottom of shoes is ranked higher in the pecking order.
Of course, the Locog ticketing scheme was a shambles. This is Britain, it was never going to be anything but. Yet even if it had run as smoothly as the German rail system there would have been outrage. Not enough of the good tickets to satisfy demand. It's as straightforward as that. Particularly when one factors in all the "comps" and "sponsors guests" badges the IOC – Fifa dressed in a vicar's outfit – insist on handing out.
That is the way professional sport is nowadays and if you need any confirmation, just watch the next Andy Murray match on Centre Court and spot the "faces" in the crowd. True tennis fans, these B-listers. Right down to the 10 per cent they pay their agent who happens to have wonderful contacts in the sports industry.
Still, at least the charade has alerted a few people to the great Olympic sham, in which very little is at it seems and even less is as it was promised. The Olympics is essentially a money-making operation which so cynically cashesin on dreams and ideals and all that baloney of sport unifying the world. It can't even unify the United Kingdom to send out a football team, as the blazers protect their comfy existences and as these great patriots become agitated about a controversy which is essentially irrelevant.
Great Britain hasn't sent a team to the Olympics in 40 years and until the build-up to this Games there has been no row. That's because Olympic football doesn't mean anything to Great Britain. So why is it suddenly occupying our back pages? Simply because it's being played in our country? That's a bit like only entering the World Cup when it's taking place in our country. It's pathetic.
Not nearly as pathetic, however, as the attention continuing to be distracted from the real scandal of London 2012 – the legacy.
Ah, the "L" word, which played such a huge role in landing the Games six years ago and which has enjoyed an ever-diminishing bit-part ever since. How much of London 2012's total funding is being allocated, as the promotional bumf said, to "inspire a new sporting generation to play sport"? One and a half per cent. Not a great amount for a cornerstone, is it? In fact, it represents the tiniest piece of grouting on this most sickening of facades. And the deeper one digs, the more reprehensible it becomes.
Last week, as the Scots were being called all sorts of names for not throwing their weight behind the GB football team ("traitors" being the most laughable), The Scotsman published an article which revealed the extent of the 2012 shame. Some £150m of Scotland's National Lottery money is being diverted into staging the Olympics, but Scotland – along with Wales and Northern Ireland – is being excluded from the Olympics' flagship legacy programme. It's the sort of disgrace which should attract headlines, but how can it compete against crashing websites or Gareth Bale?
Announced with predictable pomp last year by Lord Coe (title: Locog chairman, salary: £360,000 pa, plus £500-£1,000 for every meeting he attends), the Places People Play initiative will pump £135m into grassroots sports over the next four years. Now, overlooking for the moment that the Comprehensive Spending Review cut £160m from school sport and that some of the funding will be used to protect sports fields which shouldn't be sold anyway, the £135m will be much welcomed. In England.
Not in Scotland, or Wales or Northern Ireland, which have all been forced to contribute heavily to staging the Games, but shan't receive a penny of the PPP funding. And their youngsters will not be able to enter the programme's free ballot for Olympic tickets either. So much for the "British" Olympics, so much for the legacy. In truth, £135m is peanuts anyway and it will not begin to address the shortfall in funding caused by the redirection of monies into the staging of this big fat myth.
But still, the politicians will look good as they sit in the best seats in the house, sounding so profound as they talk about Britain selling itself to the world. No doubt, Britain's sold itself. Right down the Swanee.
Wimbledon's late-night action raises the roof
Certain sportswriters with coveted restaurant bookings may not agree, but how warming it was at last to see some investment in British tennis paying dividends. Friday night's encounter between Andy Murray and the bald bloke with the sweat-band went on until 9.50pm and in doing so not only saved us from EastEnders but also saved Wimbledon from another dreary washout.
Two years on and we all have to agree that the Centre Court's retractable roof is a marvel and an absolute snip at the reported £80m – which, to my crude calculations, is the same as it costs the LTA over a three-year period to get one male and no females into the third round.
The TV execs were undoubtedly pleased with their evening's entertainment and unlike in other events (the Six Nations, for one) their delight did not directly result in the woe of the travelling fan. After all, it is a damn sight easier to get across London at 10pm than it is as 7pm.
So is this the start of night tennis at Wimbledon? Will Murray's late-night magic herald a floodlit new era? No, the All England Club would never allow that. Half of their members need tucking up by 9pm, with a cup of cocoa and a dab of albas. But the occasional all-nighter will remain a blessed treat, particularly for those of us old enough (ie: five or more) who remember the long bouts of grey misery. No more Virginia Wade re-runs. No more Sir Cliff. Bliss.
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