I hope the many hundreds of thousands of you lovely people from around the globe who will be descending upon London for the Olympic Games, due to take place in July and August this year, will appreciate the amazing things that have been laid on for you. No expense, it will be clear, has been spared.
First off, it will see the biggest mobilisation of security and military personnel in the UK since the Second World War. This will involve 13,500 military personnel backed by an array of hardware including unmanned drones, 4 Typhoon fighter aircraft, 55 dog patrol teams and an 11 mile long 5,000 volt electric security fence. Plus – no, we’re not finished yet – three Royal Navy helicopters, laser-guided towed missile systems, three RAF Puma helicopters and two amphibious assault ships parked (anchored?) in the Thames.
Heartwarming. To which must be added a range of new scanning devices, bio-metric ID cards, number and facial recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, extra police control centres and security checkpoints in key zones. And to get into an event, assuming you’ve a ticket, you will be faced with airport style security checks.
And as if that weren’t enough – and this next one takes some beating – surface to air missiles are to be deployed on a number of tower blocks in East London. Civilian tower blocks, that is – i.e. blocks of flats (apartments) in which ordinary UK citizens have their homes and bring up their children. Some of the residents of these blocks are not pleased. First off, they were not consulted. Nobody asked them if they’d agree to have these things perched on their rooftops. And secondly, you can forgive them for wondering if this might make the places in which they live likely targets for terrorists. But the government says not; it says it might actually make them less likely targets. Not sure of the logic of that, but who am I anyway? I guess it’s all OK. It will be a memorable two weeks.
One further thing – should it be your intention to join us for this superjunket, you should be aware of this – with the main entry-point into the UK, i.e. Heathrow Airport, in the mess it currently is, it’s likely to take you the entire two weeks of the Olympics to get through Passport Control. But be not discouraged, dear visitor – they have TV’s in all the terminals so you’ll be able to watch all your favourite events as you queue, eat sandwiches, go to toilets, try and calm the kids, try and get some sleep etc., etc.
What has gone wrong? These are games. This is sport. Am I the only one detecting a mismatch here? If I were going on a cycling holiday in Somalia or back-packing through Helmand Province I’d be seriously reassured to have that sort of backup. But all I want to do is get on a bus and go down the road to watch some people in running shorts running the hundred metres, for Christ’s sake. Throwing a javelin or two, swimming around in a pool – see who wins – that sort of thing. But it’s bring out the guns, the assault craft, the missiles, and – in the words of Monty Burns – release the hounds - for it’s the Olympic Games!! Should we not be thinking very, very seriously – all of us including governments around the world about how we’ve come to such a lunatic situation?
And now – a real sporting story. On the 17th March this year, during a football match in North London between the teams of Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspur, 23 year-old midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field having suffered a cardiac arrest. Medics rushed onto the pitch. The match was abandoned. Muamba was rushed to hospital and though technically dead for 78 minutes, was kept alive by artificial means. Due to the quick work of doctors on the pitch, to the skill of paramedics of the London Ambulance Service and subsequently to the expertise of doctors at the London Chest Hospital, he gradually – and amazingly – recovered. That recovery has been described by doctors as ‘miraculous’. It has been closely followed by the media. He came out of hospital on the 16th April and on the 2nd May he put in a personal appearance before a match between the same two teams, this time at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton. He received there, from the thousands of fans, a tumultuous welcome. So much so, he couldn’t believe it. Fabrice Muamba wept.
And the point of this story? This man is black; the vast majority of those standing up and cheering him, unreservedly welcoming him back were white. Now that’s a good story. The Olympics story is – to my mind – a shameful one. I wish this country would make much more of, even brag about its multi-culturalism. It’s one of the things – give or take the odd lapse – that it’s pretty good at.