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Diane Abbott: The Games that lost touch with reality

As we plunge deeper into an economic crisis, the Games seem increasingly inappropriate

Diane Abbott
Thursday 17 November 2011 01:00 GMT

As a Hackney resident and a Hackney MP, I take a close personal interest in the 2012 Olympics. In fact, if you sit in the living room of one of my best friends in the borough, you can see the Olympic Park soaring skyward. Yet, for all the positive impact the Games have had on our lives, they might as well be happening on another planet. There have been so many disappointments. And, as they draw nearer, so many things about them seem disturbing, if not bizarre.

The East End welcomed the Olympics. We thought they might bring regeneration. But in terms of providing jobs for local people, they have been a bitter disappointment. Some 44,000 people have found work on the Olympic Park and Village since 2008. But only 8,081 were from the East End (i.e. Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Greenwich) – less than 10 per cent.

The figures for local labour include workers from all over Britain (and Europe) who were packed into boarding houses that happened to have an East End address. And it wasn't about the skills and training. There are plenty of highly skilled bricklayers, electricians and other workers in the East End. The Olympic Development Authority was just never serious about giving opportunities to local people. Even when it came to apprenticeships, at one point there was only one apprentice from Hackney on the entire site. In the wake of the riots, the Government may live to regret not doing anything to maximise a golden opportunity to provide jobs for young men from areas like Hackney.

The Olympics were meant to help us be a fitter Britain. Instead, they are sponsored by two of the biggest culprits for childhood obesity – Coca Cola and McDonald's. It will even have the biggest McDonald's in the world on site. Another distinctly unhealthy sponsor, it emerged this week, will be the American company Dow Chemical, who in 2001 bought Union Carbide, the company which had owned the factory in India where an estimated 15,000 people died after a poison gas leak in 1984. And this week's revelation that the Olympics could be protected by surface-to-air missiles marks another departure from reality.

As Europe plunges deeper into the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the 2012 Olympics – costing £9bn – seem increasingly inappropriate. They didn't provide the jobs we were promised. The pledges of a healthier and fitter Britain are being washed away in a tide of fizzy drinks. And while the shiny new venues are spectacular, more and more the Olympic Park seems like a gigantic shimmering Star Wars entity – which ordinary East Enders can see but cannot touch.

Diane Abbott is MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and Shadow Public Health Minister

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