Tuesday, 14 August 2012

2012 Olympic legacies

The success of the British team at the Olympics has been wonderful. Although I contributed virtually nothing (aside from my tax money) to the event it has made me feel proud to be British. One of the most enjoyable aspects was seeing the bigoted Tory MP Aidan Burley (who bitterly criticised "multiculturalism during the Olympic opening ceremony) proved spectacularly wrong by Britain's multicultural medal winning athletes.

Double gold medalist Mo Farah and triple gold medalist
Usain Bolt doing eachother's signature moves.
Some of my personal highlights included: Bradley Wiggins annihilating the field in the road race time trial just nine days after becoming the first British man ever to win the Tour de France endurance race. 15 year old Rūta Meilutytė winning the 100m breaststroke final to claim Lithuania's first ever swimming medal. Stunningly high scoring finals in the men's floor, vault and rings in the gymnastics. 36 year old Chris Hoy powering to victory in the Kierin and 19 year old Jade Jones becoming Britain's first ever Taekwondo champion. Jessica Ennis sprinting to win her 800m race in the Heptathlon when she only needed to avoid finishing 18 seconds behind her opponent. David Rudisha winning an incredible 800m race in which practically every competitor beat their national record or personal best time. 19 year old Kirani James winning the 400m, a first ever gold medal for Grenada. The astonishing photo finish after a two hour race in the women's triathlon. Mo Farah winning golds in the 10,000 and 5,000m to become undoubtedly Britain's favourite Muslim immigrant. I don't even like Tennis but Andy Murray claiming Olympic gold to become the first British man to win a major international tournament in over seven decades has to be worth a mention.

There were problems with the games of course, I've written plenty about them. The most notable was probably the shameful security shambles after the private security company G4S (who have based their business model on leeching taxpayers' cash through lucrative outsourcing contracts) failed to recruit enough staff, leaving the public sector in the guise of thousands of police and military personnel to pick up the pieces. There were also the revolting multi-national sponsors, their Olympic brand enforcement militia and their attempted Olympic tax dodge.

Once the games began the thing that annoyed me the most (aside from having to hear the grotesquely sycophantic and unrepresentative national anthem so many times) was the way Tory politicians and Royals started buzzing around the successful athletes like flies around shite. David Cameron was keen to cash in on this wave of public euphoria at the remarkable success of so many British athletes. He tried basking in the glory of others (people that have actually worked hard for what they achieved rather than having it all handed to them on a plate like himself) and boasting about the "sporting legacy" offered by the games.

There is one major problem with the Tories trying to use the success of the games as a PR coup and boasting about "sporting legacies". Over the last couple of years Cameron's Tory party have shown absolute contempt for sports development in schools.

Tory education minister Michael Gove had approved 21 out of 22 applications for school playing fields to be sold off for development (with the one outstanding application still under consideration), this despite a Tory pledge to protect school sports facilities. This is not a party political point, Neo-Labour were just as bad, selling off around 200 playing fields in their 13 years in power. The most destructive government by far was the Thatcher-Major Tory government that sold off an estimated 10,000 school playing fields between 1979 and 1997.

It seems more than a little bit hypocritical for the Tories to cash in on British sporting success when they have been busy approving applications for developers to concrete over sports fields. This wasn't Gove's only outright attack on school sports; in 2010 he completely cut funding for the School Sports Partnership scheme which provided professional sports coaches for local schools. After a huge public backlash and criticism from a range of successful British athletes Gove u-turned and partially restored temporary funding for the scheme.

The next revelation was even more damaging, that Cameron had personally intervened in order to remove the requirement that state schools provide at least two hours sports activities a week to their students. His first attempt at defending this decision relied on the absurd characterisation of physical education targets as "tick box" mentality. The same kind of pathetic right-wing NewSpeak lexicon where all regulations are "pointless red-tape" all minimum requirements are "tick-box targets" and all critics of the neoliberalisation process are "loonie lefties" or "Trotskyites".

This "tick-box" excuse clearly didn't wash with the public because the criticism didn't abate so Cameron's PR team devised a much better smokescreen strategy, which relied on a classic distraction strategy. Cameron stated that "The two hours that is laid down is often met through sort of Indian dancing classes. Now, I’ve got nothing against Indian dancing classes but that’s not really sport".

The objective of course being to get the public debating the virtues of Indian dancing instead of focusing their attention on the Tories appalling track record of attacking sports in schools. The idea that there is a "wrong kind of exercise" is absurd enough, but to cancel a requirement that schools across the country provide at least a couple of hours of sport, simply because you dislike one of the activities that a minority of schools are engaging in looks a lot like vindictiveness.

It seems like a reasonable assumption that many of the schools teaching dance could be some of the 10,000 schools that had their playing fields sold off under the previous Tory administration, making the best use of the limited space they have available, since "proper sports" like football, rugby, cricket and athletics are pretty much impossible without a bit of open space.

The vindictiveness of only considering sports that were played on the vast playing fields of Eton to be "proper sports", when Cameron's political party sold off 10,000 playing fields all over Britain is absolutely astounding.

Cameron then went on the offensive against teachers in state schools, claiming that they should give up their free time to teach sports after school. It is absolutely amazing to see the leader of a political party that deliberately cut funding for an organisation that provided professional sports training in schools to then demand that a bunch of untrained amateurs take up coaching and do it for free. Having suffered the untrained amateurism of school teachers trying to teach us sports they barely understood instead of professional coaching as a kid, I can barely find the words to express what a mind-bogglingly terrible idea this is.

Another legacy of the games will be a debt legacy. The original bid to host the games was £2 billion. Current cost estimates range between £11 - £15 billion. Many of the necessary tax revenues to fund this will be paid by people that don't even like sport, but perhaps, knowing the Tories and their appalling track record of hypocrisy, they would probably see nothing wrong with recouping this cost by laying off P.E. teachers in state schools, selling off state owned school playing fields for development and cancelling funding for British sporting institutions.

Next time you hear a Tory MP boasting about Britain's Olympic legacy, just think of the determined Tory efforts to undermine this " British sporting legacy" by selling off school playing fields to greedy developers, scrapping the two hours mandatory sports in schools in order to eradicate ethnic dancing and trying to replace highly trained professional sports coaches in schools with an army of untrained amateurs.

For me possibly the greatest Olympic legacy may stem from the G4S security shambles. The fact that millions of British people got a very visible demonstration private sector inefficiency which was competently resolved at short notice by the public sector in the form of thousands of police and military personnel. A perfect demonstration of the inefficient state fallacy.

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