Published in The Huffington Post UK, 27 July 2012
OK, I was really so not planning on ever writing anything, whatsoever, at any point while I continue to breathe, about the London Olympics. First of all I have absolutely zero interest in the circus that is modern competitive sport (panem et circenses), and secondly what more could I possibly add to the scandals around the security? All the information is out there if people choose to join the dots.
But synchronicity plays its part. Firstly, this morning I read this excellent article by former UK ambassador-turned-whistleblower, Craig Murray, about how the UK is now under martial law in the run-up to the Olympics. Shortly afterwards I did an interview with the women’s glossy magazine, Grazia, about the security set-up around the games. I know, I know, sometimes the heavens align in a once-in-a-century configuration……
So on the back of this fortuitous alignment and while my angry-o-meter is still spiked at the “dangerous” level, I wanted to set some thoughts down.
Craig is correct – because of the Olympic Games, London has gone into full martial law lock-down. Never before in peace-time has the capital city of the formerly Great Britain seen such a military “defensive” presence: missile launchers on local tower blocks primed to blow straying commercial airliners out of the skies over London, regardless of “collateral damage”; anti-aircraft bunkers dug in on Greenwich common; and naval destroyers moored on the Thames.
Plus, absent the promised G4S publicly-funded work-experience slaves – sorry, security staff – the military has been drafted in. Soldiers just home from patrolling the streets in Afghanistan in daily fear of their lives have had all leave cancelled. Instead of the much-needed R & R, they shall be patrolling the Olympic crowds. Does anyone else see a potential problem here?
And all this follows a decade of erosion of basic freedoms and civil liberties – all stripped away in the name of protecting the UK from the ever-growing but nebulous terrorist threat.
But I would take it a step further than Craig Murray – this is not just martial law, this is fascist martial law.
(And being conscious of any potential copyright thought-crimes, I hereby give all due credit to a very famous UK TV advert campaign which appears to use the same cadence.)
Why do I say this is one step beyond?
The Italian World War II dictator, Benito Mussolini, is famously credited with defining fascism thus: “the merger of the corporate and the state”.
And this is precisely what we are seeing on the streets of London. Not only are Londoners subjected to an overwhelming military and police presence, the corporate commissars are also stalking the streets.
When Seb Coe and Tony Blair triumphantly announced that London had won the Olympics on 6th July 2005, one of their mantras was how London and the UK would benefit from the presence of the games. They painted a rosy picture of local businesses booming on the back of the influx of tourists.
But the cold reality of today’s Olympics is greyer. Commuters are being advised to work from home rather than use the overloaded transport networks; the civil service is effectively shutting down; and Zil lanes for the “great and the good” of the Olympics universe are choking already congested London streets.
Even worse, businesses across the UK, but particularly the local ones in the economically deprived environs of the Olympic Park in East London, are categorically NOT allowed to benefit from the games. Under the terms of the contracts drawn up by the corporate mega-sponsors, London small businesses are not allowed to capitalize in any conceivable, possible, miniscule way on the presence of the games in their own city.
And these terms and conditions are enshrined in the Olympics Act 2006; any infraction of the rules carries a criminal penalty. For more than a week, corporate police enforcers have been patrolling London looking for infractions of the Olympic trademark. And this goes way beyond “Olympics R US” or some such. As Nick Cohen wrote in an excellent recent article in The Spectator magazine:
“In the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act of 2006, the government granted the organisers remarkable concessions. Most glaringly, its Act is bespoke legislation that breaks the principle of equality before the law. Britain has not offered all businesses and organisations more powers to punish rivals who seek to trade on their reputation. It has given privileges to the Olympics alone. The government has told the courts they may wish to take particular account of anyone using two or more words from what it calls ‘List A’ — ‘Games’; ‘Two Thousand and Twelve’; ‘2012’; ‘twenty twelve’. The judges must also come down hard on a business or charity that takes a word from List A and conjoins it with one or more words from ‘List B’ — ‘Gold’; ‘Silver’; ‘Bronze’; ‘London’; ‘medals’; ‘sponsors’; ‘summer’. Common nouns are now private property.”
I heard recently that a well-established local cafe in Stratford, East London, that has for years been known as the Olympic Cafe, has been ordered to paint over its sign for the duration of the games. If I owned the cafe, I would be tempted to sue the Olympic Committee for breach of trademark.
It seems to me that this real-world trademark protectionism is an extension of the ongoing copyright wars in cyberspace – a blatant attempt to use state level power and legislation to protect the interests of the wealthy international mega-corps few. We saw early attempts at this during the South African Football World Cup in 2010, and the Vancouver Winter Olympics the same year.
But the London Olympics take it to the next level: there is a long list of what you are not allowed to take into the stadia. Spectators will be subjected to airport-style security theatre. This will ensure that no liquids of more than 100ml can be carried, although empty bottles will be allowed if people want to fill them up with tap water on site. This, of course, means that more spectators will be buying their sponsor-approved liquids in situ and at no-doubt over-inflated prices, to the benefit of one of the key Olympic sponsors.
The London games seem to be the first time that the global corporate community is demonstrating its full spectrum dominance – where the legal, police, and military resources of the state are put at the disposal of the giant, bloated, money-sucking leech that is the International Olympic Committee.
Every city that has hosted the Olympics over the last four decades has been financially bled white; many are still paying back the initial investment in the infrastructure, even if it is now decaying and useless. Greece, anybody?
But do the IOC or its regional pimps care? Hell, no. Like all good parasites, once the original host has been drained dry, the Games move on to a new food source every four years.
What really, deeply puzzles me is why the hell are the people of London not out there protesting against this corporatist putsch? Perhaps they fear being shot?
How can it be a crime to take a full bottle of water into a stadium when you want to watch a sport? How can it be a crime to tweet a picture? How can it be criminal to celebrate the occasion in your local pub with Olympic flags draped around your bar, drinking a beer and eating a burger marketed cheesily as “fit for champions” or some such?
The original ideals behind the reconstitution of the modern Olympics in 1896 were a highly romanticised and distorted vision of the values of the ancient games. But even that naive ideal has been lost in the crapulous corporatism that is the modern event.
We have even gone way beyond the Roman view of bread and circuses placating the masses. Now we are into the hardcore realpolitik of international corporations and national governments using the games as a perfect pretext to tighten the “security” screws even more.
And so the UK is proud to present full-blown Corporate Fascism Version 2.0.