Mon, September 23, 2013

London's opponents will 'remain hostile'

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency


A light display is seen at the Olympic Stadium after a full dress rehearsal in London late July 25, 2012. (REUTERS)

LONDON - Shopkeeper Rakesh Patel doubts he will catch Games fever in time for the start of the Olympics on Friday.

The owner of Pritesh News on Leyton High Rd., in London’s East End, said his sales have fallen by 30% since the London Organizing Committee for the Games ordered community sports fields across the street to be paved and parking banned outside his store in recent weeks. A temporary storage and logistics compound was created, complete with electric fences and prison-style surveillance cameras and sensors, near the Olympic Village.

“It is too much, this Olympics, some of my customers can’t come now,” he said, pointing to the no parking signs.

A steady stream of police officers and Games workers and volunteers do shop at his store on breaks or after their shifts because of restrictions on what they can bring into the site. But the temporary clientele is not enough to offset the decline. Asked if he is happy about the world’s biggest event coming to his neighbourhood, Patel said: “For the government, yes; for myself, I’m not.” As London readies for its third Olympics (it also was host in 1908 and 1948), indifference may be the prevailing mood. About 64% of respondents to a YouGov poll in March felt the Games would not be good for them and 53% were not interested in the five-ring circus.

Opinion polls in British Columbia showed similar results before Vancouver held the 2010 Winter Olympics. But some of the opposition dissipated and Vancouver became famous for the unprecedented downtown street parties.

London Games-opponent Julian Cheyne predicted that a prevailing distrust of politicians amid a recession means London is unlikely to follow Vancouver.

“A lot of people will remain very hostile,” he said.

Cheyne writes for the Games Monitor website, is part of the Counter Olympics Network and a co-ordinator of a Saturday protest march. He said locals aren’t buying the government’s position that the Games are a once-in-a-generation event that will benefit everyone. He said it will benefit companies involved in construction and sponsors who advertise their products. The Games, he said, may have exceeded their original 2.4-billion pound budget by tenfold.

Cheyne’s opposition grew from his 2007 eviction from one of two housing complexes that were expropriated to make way for what is now Olympic Park.

“We had a community centre, a very sociable estate,” Cheyne said.

The temporary loss of the playing fields in Leyton is another example of how the Games have had an adverse impact on communities, he said. An application to reinstate the playing fields and refurbish the park has been posted near a bus stop, but the notice doesn’t say whether the work will be done this year or next.

Cheyne was interrupted by a phone call asking about the Saturday protest.

Just then, two police officers patrolling the sidewalk stopped when they heard him say “protest.” They politely asked questions before moving out of earshot to use their mobile phones.

“These guys have nothing better than (to investigate when they) see someone wearing an odd T-shirt,” Cheyne said, pointing to his London 2012 Official Protester shirt.

Cheyne pointed behind him and made reference to the surface-to-air missiles deployed on the roof of an area apartment building.

“One of the problems with this event is you do get this over-the-top security,” he said.