Belfast Telegraph

Mark Steel: We should hand out Olympic medals to big business

I love the Olympics. During the Games in Beijing, I watched for nine hours without a break until the commentator said, "And you have to say, that's a CRITICAL moment in the history of Algerian judo."

David Cameron is another fan, who explained how excited he was about the London Games. His reason, he said, was, "the eyes of the world will be on Britain", providing "a chance for companies from across the globe to interact and do business in the UK." He might as well have added, "So thank Christ for that because all the running and stuff bores me senseless."

One of these chances will come at a special business conference before the Games, with executives from, among others, Google, Goldman Sachs, Vodafone. But we're missing out, because this conference shouldn't be before the Games, it should be an event in them, with commentators whispering, "What an atmosphere as we approach the final of the Freestyle Tax-Dodging. Can anyone challenge the mighty Vodafone, dominant in this field for so long. Oh, it's a false start, Goldman Sachs transferred two billion dollars to the Seychelles before the gun went off."

Cameron said critics should "stop grumbling". Presumably he means critics such as protesters in India, who are upset that one of the main sponsors is Dow Chemical, the company that, as Union Carbide, which Dow later bought, poisoned the town of Bhopal, killing several thousand people. But if you've been poisoned, instead of grumbling it's much more healthy to enjoy interacting companies sponsoring some weightlifting.

Another recent decision has been to allow executives of Coca-Cola to ride to the stadium in the lanes put by for the athletes. So now Coca-Cola will probably complain that this isn't enough of a privilege and they'll be allowed to drive round the track during the races, while a commentator screams, "So Usain Bolt is finally beaten, by the CEO of Coca-Cola in an Alfa Romeo in a stunning time of 5.3 seconds."

The original route of the marathon was changed so it no longer goes through the poorer parts of the East End of London, and you can understand why. If we're trying to attract globally interacting companies, we don't want to let on we've got poor areas. So maybe it will change again, to 250 laps of the gardens in Buckingham Palace, then a taxi to Kensington and finish with a circuit of Harrods.

The initial bid was based on a "legacy", but now there's little mention of using the income from these companies to fill London with tennis courts or running tracks. But there will be the legacy of an Olympic rowing lake, thoughtfully provided in grounds used by the underprivileged schoolboys of Eton. You can grumble all you like, but when you see their little faces light up in the knowledge that they're no longer deprived of their own lake, your eyes well up with pride that you're from a country that creates a chance for companies to interact.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph