Guest Column: Olympics more burden than celebration


Photo: Katelynn McCollough/Iowa State Daily

The Olympic rings hang from Tower Bridge in London. London is the host city of the 2012 Olympic Games, making it the only city in the world to have hosted the games three times.

Elizabeth Polsdofer

I was walking briskly into the international arrival terminal of London’s Heathrow Airport, mostly to get away from the teenage girls who were complaining loudly about the Grand Inquisition (or as most people call it, border control), when I suddenly realized I was looking at two people who I had not seen in two years and had just flown six hours to see. We hugged and talked about how glad we were to see each other as they recalled the “altercation with a taxi driver” they had while parking their car to pick me up.

As we pulled onto the M4, the equivalent of America’s Route 66, I thanked them profusely for braving the United Kingdom’s busiest highway during near Olympic season when they said it wasn’t a problem and then added, “Well, if you had come during the Olympics, you definitely would have been on your own.”

There are certain expectations you need to have about visiting the United Kingdom. It is small; it is crowded; it is odd; it is full of tourists. Although we admire our estranged parent country for their appealing accents, Cadbury chocolate eggs during Easter and gift to the world of Harry Potter, the ability to overlook the cultural differences between the United Kingdom and the United States is only the beginning to understanding why the British are far from pumped about hosting the Olympics.

The things Americans tend to love the most about the United Kingdom, such as the marriage of Kate Middleton to Prince William and the Royal Family, are the things most Britons cannot stand about about their own country. For those of you whose only knowledge of the Royal Family consists of the happy knowledge there is one prince still left to marry, let’s visit the last calendar year of the Royal Family:

In April 2011, Kate and William put Kim Kardashian’s $10 million wedding to shame with a wedding estimated between £20 million to 45 million ($30m to 70m). Fast forward ahead to June 2012 and you have the Diamond Jubilee, a celebration of Elizabeth II’s 60 years as queen. That’s an estimated £12 million (a little under $19 million). Mind you the salary of Her Majesty and her king consort is £7.9 million ($12m), with grants summing £22 million ($34m) to pay for the Royal household, and £1 million ($1.6m) addition grants to help pay for the Diamond Jubilee. The figures get even more depressing when you consider the British economy is in a recession.

Look at the United Kingdom’s annual royal price tag and you’ll begin to understand why no one is exactly pumped about throwing an estimated nearly £11 billion ($17b) cinder block onto an economy that is in recession and already crippled by excessive Royal Family celebrations. That’s a big number, I know, but that doesn’t even include the estimated cost of security during the Olympics. C4-Security, the company that won the bid for security during the Olympics at the cost of £248 million ($39m), but the estimated total cost of security has risen to be £1 billion to 2 billion ($1.6b to 3b) more than anticipated. Pretty heavy considering the original price tag to host the games was set at £2.4 billion ($3.7b).

Sure, London will make money because of the Olympics, but what about the infrastructure? Several signs in the tube stations (equivalent to New York’s subway system) across the city of London are warning passengers to consider alternate routes during the Summer Games. This is understandable and reasonable until you remember the tube stations are already overcrowded during the summer months since London is the most visited international tourist site for American tourists.

Leave London and you’ll come across several busy cities where traffic was severely disrupted during the torch relays. As inhabitants of the States, we’re used to big cars, big roads and big houses, so the shock of going to a country where half an inch of snow can cause major traffic jams is alarming. The roads in the United Kingdom are much smaller and narrower since their cars are almost always compact so it doesn’t take much to clog up the roads.

While walking through Central London I watched an entire road be blocked by tourists eagerly taking pictures of the changing of a guard. As a student in a college town there are times of the day when I find people driving through Iowa State’s campus to be excessively foolish, but that’s the thing: People drive through Central London all the time as a necessity, and with the tubes tied underground there’s isn’t much for transportation for those who absolutely must have access to London during the Summer Games.

Of course the transportation issues of the summer games is nothing compared to the security concerns. Nick Buckles, the CEO of C4-Security, has made several embarrassing statements apologizing for failures to make good on a promise of supplying nearly 11,000 security guards for the games. Buckling under pressure, Buckles estimates about 7,000 guards will be available for the games, meaning the government is calling in troops to make up for C4-Security’s shortcomings. The company is estimated to lose about £30 billion to 50 billion ($47b to 78b) due to its overestimation of staff available for the Summer Games.

Perhaps most telling of the Olympic woes is British Airways’s ads, “Don’t fly, support team [Great Britain].” That’s right. British Airways, an aviation company, is literally discouraging its British customers from using its services during the Summer Olympics. Watching commercials encouraging Britons not to leave the country is akin to Danny Torrance encountering the twins at the end of the hallway from “The Shining” on his tricycle saying, “Come play with us, Danny. Forever and ever…”

It seems the 2012 Olympic Games are keeping well with the type of culture power the United Kingdom exports in earnest — the kind it needs to maintain an image of wealth and power — but not the kind its economy deserves.