Our Olympic Hell: A Militarised, Corporate, Jingoistic Disgrace – OpEd


Last month, when it was revealed that the MoD was siting surface-to-air missiles on the roofs of residential buildings as part of the bloated security measures for the Olympics — estimated to cost at least £1.4 billion, to be paid for by taxpayers — there was a brief flurry of outrage, although not enough to bring the plans to an end. Two weeks ago, during a week-long “military exercise” in London, Simon Jenkins, in the Guardian, captured something of the surreal excesses involved when a pliant government comes up against the extraordinary demands of the International Olympic Committee:

RAF Typhoon jets are to scream back and forth over the Thames. Starstreak surface-to-air missile batteries are being set up in East End parks and on flats in Bow, with 10 soldiers manning each one. Army and navy helicopters will clatter back and forth, with snipers hanging from their doors “to shoot down pilots of terrorist planes”.

Machine-guns will for the first time be toted by guards on the London tube. Police special forces, “trained to kill”, will wear balaclavas to avoid identification. There are to be naval landing craft roaming the coast off Weymouth and submarines at the ready. The Olympics have become a festival of the global security industry, with a running and jumping contest as a sideshow. No one in government dares call a halt. Nero in his prime could not have squandered so much money on circuses.

The Olympics have become an Orwellian parody of what happens when a world agency blackmails a government aching for prestige into spending without limit. Not one defence spokesman has come up with a plausible scenario for the jets and missiles. The latter have a range of just three miles and are said to be usable “only at the express instruction of the prime minister”. What will they shoot down, and on whose head will it crash?

The figures involved are astonishing. 13,500 military personnel will be deployed for the duration of the Games, and yesterday came the doubly depressing news that the security firm G4S — “the largest employer on the London Stock Exchange with more than 650,000 staff worldwide” — has had 100,000 applications for 10,000 job vacancies, In total, G4S “will provide 23,700 personnel, including volunteers and military,” as part of a £200 million contract.

All of the above, however, is typical of everything to do with the Olympics, whose keywords are greed, waste, exaggeration, distortion, militarism, paranoia, jingoism and social cleansing, and whose abiding financial basis is the accruing of huge debts and publicly-funded corporate profiteering.

The sport itself also suffers from having become a turbo-charged manifestation of competition, which is not only co-opted for the purposes of nationalistic and corporate propaganda, but is also over-rated compared to cooperation, and almost always marketed as anti-intellectual, lest anyone actually thinks about what it all means — how the sport itself has become a sideshow to the aggressive manifestation of money and power.

While ordinary Londoners — treated with contempt, like idiotic punters to be mercilessly exploited — will be paying for this hollow spectacle for years, and are fleeced for tickets, and encouraged to “volunteer” to help out at the Olympics, while all the managers get paid, that, apparently, is not enough humiliation.

It is also clear that we will all face traffic chaos throughout the summer, which, in some cases, will inevitably lead to businesses collapsing, and some of the least fortunate Londoners are those renting a property from a landlord or landlady who cannot resist the opportunity to make a killing from the Games. Across the capital, rents are spiralling out of control, even though they are already unregulated, and already almost unaffordable, and counter-productive for the economy as a whole, because so much of workers’ wages is wasted on servicing lazy, venal landlords and their banks. As the greed increases, some tenants are being summarily evicted — at very short notice, because they have no rights — so that landlords can charge up to 20 times what they normally charge.

Below, to highlight these iniquities and more, I’m cross-posting two perceptive articles about the modern-day horror of the Games — of unaccountable corporate expansion, social cleansing and control, funded with a blank cheque paid for by taxpayers — which I believe cover most of the key topics. The first was published in the Guardian in March, and was written by Stephen Graham, Professor of Cities and Society at Newcastle University, whose latest book is Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism. The second, by Ashok Kumar, a writer, activist and a PhD candidate of Economic Geography at Oxford University, was published last month in Ceasefire magazine.

Olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown London
By Stephen Graham, The Guardian, March 12, 2012

As a metaphor for the London Olympics, it could hardly be more stark. The much-derided “Wenlock” Olympic mascot is now available in London Olympic stores dressed as a Metropolitan police officer. For £10.25 you, too, can own the ultimate symbol of the Games: a member of by far the biggest and most expensive security operation in recent British history packaged as tourist commodity. Eerily, his single panoptic-style eye, peering out from beneath the police helmet, is reminiscent of the all-seeing eye of God so commonly depicted at the top of Enlightenment paintings. In these, God’s eye maintained a custodial and omniscient surveillance on His unruly subjects far below on terra firma.

The imminent Olympics will take place in a city still recovering from riots that the Guardian-LSE Reading the Riots project showed were partly fuelled by resentment at their lavish cost. Last week, the UK spending watchdog warned that the overall costs of the Games were set to be at least £11bn — £2 bn over even recently inflated budgets. When major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail, speeded up for the Games, are factored in, the figure may be as high as £24bn, according to Sky News. The estimated cost put forward only seven years ago when the Games were won was £2.37 bn.

With the required numbers of security staff more than doubling in the last year, estimates of the Games’ immediate security costs have doubled from £282m to £553m. Even these figures are likely to end up as dramatic underestimates: the final security budget of the 2004 Athens Olympics were around £1bn [and see here for an official estimate of £1.4 bn].

All this in a city convulsed by massive welfare, housing benefit and legal aid cuts, spiralling unemployment and rising social protests. It is darkly ironic, indeed, that large swaths of London and the UK are being thrown into ever deeper insecurity while being asked to pay for a massive security operation, of unprecedented scale, largely to protect wealthy and powerful people and corporations.

Critics of the Olympics have not been slow to point out the dark ironies surrounding the police Wenlock figure. “Water cannon and steel cordon sold separately,” mocks Dan Hancox on the influential Games Monitor website. “Baton rounds may be unsuitable for small children.”

In addition to the concentration of sporting talent and global media, the London Olympics will host the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces seen in the UK since the second world war. More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.

During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence.

Beyond these security spectaculars, more stealthy changes are underway. New, punitive and potentially invasive laws such as the London Olympic Games Act 2006 are in force. These legitimise the use of force, potentially by private security companies, to proscribe Occupy-style protests. They also allow Olympic security personnel to deal forcibly with the display of any commercial material that is deemed to challenge the complete management of London as a “clean city” to be branded for the global TV audience wholly by prime corporate sponsors (including McDonald’s, Visa and Dow Chemical).

London is also being wired up with a new range of scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control centres and checkpoints. These will intensify the sense of lockdown in a city which is already a byword across the world for remarkably intensive surveillance.

Many such systems, deliberately installed to exploit unparalleled security budgets and relatively little scrutiny or protest, have been designed to linger long after the athletes and VIPs have left. Already, the Dorset police are proudly boasting that their new number-plate recognition cameras, built for sailing events, are allowing them to catch criminals more effectively.

In Athens, the $300m “super-panopticon” CCTV and information system built for the Games following intense US pressure remained after the event, along with the disused sports facilities. In fact, the system has been used by Greek police trying in vain to control the mass uprisings responding to the crash and savage austerity measures in the country.

It is important to remember that all this is ostensibly designed to secure the spectacle of 17,000 athletes competing for 17 days. Even if London’s overall security budget remains similar to that of Athens, that works out at the startling figure of £59,000 of public money to secure each competitor or £3,500 per competitor per day. In 2004, the cost in now-bankrupt Athens was £90,000 per competitor (for a smaller number of athletes than are likely to attend London). This was a major contributor, as part of the overall £10bn costs, to Greece’s subsequent debt crisis.

In the context of post-austerity Britain, these figures are eye-watering. Even more remarkably, given that Olympics budgets have drawn down from many other public and lottery funds, and are no doubt adding hugely to UK national debt, the Daily Telegraph recently argued that the security operation for the Olympics were “key to aiding the recovery of UK plc”.

How can we make sense of this situation? Four connected points need emphasis here. The first is that, amid a global economic crash, so-called “homeland security” industries — a loose confederation of defence, IT and biotechnology industries — are in bonanza mode. As this post-9/11 paradigm is being diffused around the world, the industry — worth $142bn in 2009 — is expected to be worth a staggering $2.7tn globally between 2010 and 2020. Growth rates are between 5% and 12% a year.

The UK, long an exemplar “surveillance society”, is especially attractive to these industries, especially when hosting the Olympics. Recent security industry magazines have been full of articles excitedly extolling the Olympics as a “key driver of the industry” or as “keeping the market buoyant”.

Nation states, and the EU, are struggling to ensure that their corporations get a piece of the action in markets long dominated by US and Israeli firms. Ramping up surveillance is thus now as much a part of economic policy as a response to purported threats.

The security boom is unaffected, or perhaps even fuelled, by the global crash, as wealthy and powerful elites across the world seek ever-more fortified lifestyles. Essentially, it is about defence and security corporations building huge new income streams by systematically exploiting three linked trends: the lucrative possibilities created by post 9/11 fears; widening privatisation and out-sourcing in the context of deep austerity programmes; and the desire of big city and national governments to brand themselves as secure destinations for major global events.

Booming security markets are so lucrative that accusations of corruption are often made. Siemens, a major security contractor at Athens, allegedly paid huge bribes to get the job from its internal slush fund.

Crucially, though, as Naomi Klein points out in her book The Shock Doctrine, the security boom also involves attempts to diffuse the technologies honed in counter-insurgency and colonial war in places such as Gaza, Kabul and Baghdad — drones, helicopters, data mining, biometrics, security zones, so-called “non-lethal weapons” (devices used to disperse crowds) — to the domestic “global” cities of Asia and the west.

Particular glee that Israeli-style security arrangements are now being widely implemented is evident among the CEOs of large Israeli security and defence contractors, which are doing especially well in the security boom. Leo Gleser is president of ISDS, a company that proudly proclaims that it was established by ex-Mossad agents and which was involved in £200m worth of security contracts for the Athens Games. He talks of “growing tsunamis of violence, criminal acts, and global insecurity triggered by the 9/11 events” which made the “the western world finally understand that measures had to be taken”.

Olympics are especially important opportunities to cement the security boom still further. They are the ultimate global security shop windows through which states and corporations can advertise their latest high-tech wares to burgeoning global markets while making massive profits.

“The Olympics is a tremendous opportunity to showcase what the private sector can do in the security space,” a Whitehall official was quoted recently as saying in a Financial Times defence supplement. “Not only do you have a UK security kitemark on the product but you’ve got an Olympic kitemark to boot.”

The main security contractor for the London Olympics — G4S, more familiar under its old Group 4 moniker — is the world’s largest security company. Beyond its £130m Olympic security contracts, it operates the world’s largest private security force — 630,000 people — taking up a myriad of outsourced contracts. It secures prisons, asylum detention centres, oil and gas installations, VIPs, embassies, airports (including those in Doncaster and Baghdad) and infrastructure, and operates in 125 countries.

According to its website, G4S specialises in particular in what it terms “executive style life-support in hazardous environments”. (Presumably this refers to Baghdad and not east London.) After buying up the ArmorGroup security company in 2008, it also now runs a large number of operations in Iraq. This month it was announced that G4S will also be the first private security corporation to run UK police stations with over half of Lincolnshire’s police force actually moving over to the company.

The second point is that the homeland and Olympic security boom is being fuelled by the widening adoption of the idea of “asymmetric” war as the key security idea among nation states, militaries and corporations. Here, rather than war with other states, the main challenge for states is deemed to be mobilising more or less permanently against vague non-state or civilian threats that lurk within their own cities and the infrastructures that connect them.

In practice, such a shift has massive and troubling implications. As we have seen with the so-called war on terror, it works to dramatically blur longstanding legal, political and ethical lines demarcating war and war-like acts from peace and criminal acts. It also fuses policing, military operations and the intelligence services much more closely as all three seek to build bigger and bigger surveillance operations to try to predict threats, especially those within the vulnerable labyrinths of big cities.

Such an approach translates easily into a deep suspicion of cosmopolitan cities, multi-ethnic populations and the rights of migrant citizens, a process accelerated by the 7/7 atrocities in London the day after the Olympics were announced in 2005.

In May 2011 the Metropolitan Police announced that they were redeploying 290 cameras that had been installed as counter-terror systems in two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham to London for the Games. Recently, the Home Office warned Waltham Forest Council — home of part of the Olympic Park — that it is home to a large group of radicalised second- and third-generation Asian Britons who potentially pose a terrorist threat to the Games.

More visibly, this shift means that the familiar security architecture of airports and international borders — checkpoints, scanners, ID cars, cordons, security zones — start to materialise in the hearts of cities. What this amounts to, in practice, is an effort to roll out the well-established architecture and surveillance of the airport to parts of the wider, open city. The “rings of steel” around the City and Docklands in London were early examples of this.

The third explanation for the Olympic security boom is to be found by looking in more detail at how risks are considered in planning the events since the 9/11 attacks. Olympics security operations have grown beyond all recognition since 2000 because they have been shaped by new types of risk assessment.

The symbolic importance and prestige of the Games for cities, nations and corporations has meant that historical ideas of proportionality have basically been abandoned. Instead, as Canadian sociologists Phil Boyle and Kevin Haggerty have shown, security planning has tried to create the impossible illusion of total security by countering all threats, no matter how outlandish, unlikely or nightmarish.

Crucially, all such threats are now deemed equally valid. A model developed by the Rand corporation to help with planning for the London Games outlines in detail 27 possible threat scenarios and the means to counter them. Meeting them helps also to demonstrate the awesome power, and elite status, of the host city or state in the wider world.

This helps account for the ever-more baroque security and surveillance operations surrounding Olympic events. It also helps explain how, under enormous pressure from the US — whose security corporations benefited hugely in the process — the security budget for Sydney ($180m, or $16,000 an athlete) was multiplied eight times for Athens only four years later ($1.5bn and $142,000, respectively). The Beijing operations, in an authoritarian country, not surprisingly eclipsed both Athens and London and came in at a staggering $6.5bn.

The final point is how the security operations of Olympics have major long-term legacies for their host cities and nations. The security preoccupations of Olympics present unprecedented opportunities to push through highly elitist, authoritarian and speculative urban planning efforts that otherwise would be much more heavily contested — especially in democracies.

These often work to “purify” or “cleanse” diverse and messy realities of city life and portray existing places as “waste” or “derelict” spaces to be transformed by mysterious “trickle-down effects”. The scale and nature of evictions and the clearance of streets of those deemed not to befit such events can seem like systematic ethnic or social cleansing. To make way for the Beijing Games, 1.5 million were evicted; clearances of local businesses and residents in London, though more stealthy, have been marked.

Such efforts often amount in effect to expensive, privatised, elitist and gentrifying projects such as the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford (the first UK shopping centre, incidentally, to have explosives scanners at all entrances).

During the Games themselves, so-called “Olympic Divides” are especially stark. In London, a citywide system of dedicated VIP “Games lanes” are being installed. Using normally public road space, these will allow 4,000 luxury, chauffeur-driven BMWs to shuttle 40,000 Olympic officials, national bureaucrats, politicians and corporate sponsors speedily between their five-star hotels, super-yachts and cordoned-off VIP lounges within the arenas. It has recently been shown that wealthy tourists will be able to enter the VIP lanes by purchasing £20,000 package trips.

Ordinary Londoners, meanwhile — who are paying heavily for the Games through council tax hikes — will experience much worse congestion. Even their ambulances will be proscribed from the lanes if they are not running blue lights.

More broadly, a huge increase in land values tends to benefit only the wealthy property speculators and financiers that are best placed to ride the wave. Already, the Qatar royal family have bought the 1,400 homes of the Olympic village in a deal worth £557m [which is up to £275m less than it has cost UK taxpayers to build].

Looking at these various points together shows one thing: contemporary Olympics are society on steroids. They exaggerate wider trends. Far removed from their notional or founding ideals, these events dramatically embody changes in the wider world: fast-increasing inequality, growing corporate power, the rise of the homeland security complex, and the shift toward much more authoritarian styles of governance utterly obsessed by the global gaze and prestige of media spectacles.

Want to cleanse your city of its poor? Host the Olympics
By Ashok Kumar, Ceasefire, April 12, 2012

As London prepares to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, startlingly little critique has surfaced in the mainstream press. With the exception of the trivial issue of ticket prices, most of the city remains transfixed, internalising the dominant narrative. This process precedes each Olympic games, one that is written and distributed by and for the real Olympic profiteers; a nexus of powerful interests that sees both short and long term gains in each host city.

This highly profitable, publicly subsidised, sporting event always attracts the major, and wannabe major, cities of the world, using any and all methods to entice an unaccountable Olympic committee, each flexing their political muscle to ensure theirs is the next chosen location. The Olympics take billions of pounds, yen, dollars of their host countries’ tax revenue to build magnificent stadiums and housing facilities, militarise the city, trample civil liberties and construct elaborate installations with shelf lives of a few weeks.

London 2012, originally expected to cost £2.4bn, is now projected at £24bn, with contracts going to some of the world’s most egregious employers and global human rights violators. Some on the left have been critical of the massive transfer from public to private at a time of austerity. The London overspend has been portrayed by officials as a one-off, but a glance at the history of the Olympics shows that underestimating the cost is a consistent part of the Olympic experience.

The 1976 Montreal Olympics took over 30 years to pay off the debt it accumulated as a result of its overspend; the 2004 Athens Olympics went almost one thousand percent over budget from €123m (£100m)  to €11.5bn (£9.5bn) in costs significantly contributing to Greece’s deficit, and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics ended up spending six times the original projection of $1bn. In fact, barring the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics – where bottom-up pressure meant zero public dollars were expended on the games, thus securing a $233 million surplus for the city — the Olympic games always exceed their projected expense, saddling cities with years of debt — often paid back through cuts in services, regressive taxes and increased fares.

But the real gains for the rich can be witnessed in the long-term implications, once the crowds have gone home. Contrary to popular belief, the devastation inflicted on the poorest and historically marginalised communities is not simply an adverse side-effect, but goes to the very essence of why cities battle to host the Games.

In recent days attention has been given to London’s policy of ‘cleaning the streets’ of sex workers and other undesirable elements in the lead up to the games. This should come as no surprise to students of history, and if the past two decades are any indication, this is only the beginning of a comprehensive strategy to restructure the character, makeup and politics of the city. Everywhere the Games injects itself, the story remains the same; beginning with the easy targets — sex workers and the homeless — the decision-makers soon move towards driving out ethnic minority and working class residents from their city.

A common tactic is to deny any connection between the policies themselves and the Olympics. As with the sex workers of London, who have been victimised by ten times the levels of raids in the five Olympic boroughs compared to the rest of London, the authorities have repeated the claim that the beefed-up efforts are ‘not related to the Olympics’ but to growing ‘community concern’.

The Olympics have always been utilised as a means to pursue what David Harvey calls ‘accumulation by dispossession,’ from visible policies of forced evictions to veiled ones such as gentrification. This violent process is intimately connected to reconfiguring the landscape for capital accumulation and, indeed, is a prime motivation for the very purpose of the Olympics itself.

The Games are not simply hosted to ‘clean up’ the city, but to fundamentally reconfigure it, to ‘cleanse’ it of its poor and undesirable; to not only make way for a city by and for the rich, but to expand the terrain of profitable activity.

Sanitising the City

In order to understand where London is headed it’s important to understand the history of Olympic games and the ways in which they have restructured the economic landscapes of their respective host cities.

In 2007, the UN-funded Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) released a report detailing the effects of the Olympics between 1988 and 2008. It concluded that the Olympic games, having evicted more then two million people in the past twenty years, are one of the top causes of displacement and real-estate inflation in the world.

The research details that the levels of forced displacement have increased in each successive city. The 1988 Seoul games witnessed the eviction of 720,000 people, where it was used by the military dictatorship to turn Seoul from a city maintained by and for its people into a corporate city owned by the privileged. The 2008 Beijing Olympics oversaw the eviction of 1.25 million residents to make way for the games.

Predictably, the report shows that the evictions disproportionally affect the homeless, the poor and ethnic minorities. Beyond forced displacement, the Olympics succeed in longer-term economic displacement of working class areas of host cities. The COHRE report shows that the Olympics significantly accelerate the process of inflating real-estate prices. For instance, in Sydney, host to the 2000 games, rents increased by an astounding 40%, between 1993, the year it was selected, and 1998. Whereas in the same period, neighboring city Melbourne saw only a 10% rise.

The 1996 Atlanta Olympics resulted in the demolishing of 2,000 public housing units – evicting 6,000 residents, in addition to the 30,000 residents who were displaced as a direct result of gentrification brought on by the Olympic ‘development’. Indeed, as if to say that the poor and black of Atlanta had not suffered enough, the city issued over 9,000 arrest citations for the city’s homeless population as part of a concerted ‘clean up’ effort, a kind of ‘two-week face lift’.

At the time, the New York Times reported that the Atlanta urban renewal projects saw ‘virtually every aspect of Atlanta’s civic life transformed’. In the Summerhill neighborhood adjacent to the Olympic stadium, for example, 200 slum houses had been levelled, while “clean, colorful subdivisions have risen in their place”. As one business owner candidly explained, speaking of the poor and homeless “even if it means busing these poor guys to Augusta for three weeks and feeding them, we ought to do it.  It sounds very brutal for me to say it, but they can’t stay here for the Olympics.”

A similar trend is found in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in which the COHRE study found that, in addition to the 2,500 evictions, housing prices rose 139% for sale and 145% for rentals in the period from 1986, the year it was selected to 1993. The same period saw a 76% decrease in public housing availability. In addition, the areas surrounding the Olympic Village site witnessed the displacement of over 90% of its Roma population.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics saw the forced displacement of 1.5 million residents, impacting the poorest rural migrants  living in the city’s outskirts, with watchdog groups claiming that the relocation saw declines in living conditions by as much as 20%.  The 2010 Vancouver Games targeted the homeless, indigenous, and women with eviction notices, criminalising  begging and sleeping outdoors, and introducing a law banning placards, banners or posters that do not ‘celebrate’ the Olympics or ‘create or enhance a festive environment and atmosphere’.

Policies of ‘cleansing’ have already begun in the favelas that encircle the city of Rio de Janeiro. Already 6,000 poor residents have been forcibly evicted at gun-point, as part of the government policy of ‘pacification’ involving over 3,000 military personal invading to ‘take control’ of the slum areas. This has resulted in street battles and the death of more than 30 residents. The Associated Press has shown that in 2010 alone,  170,000 people were facing housing loss due to the double threat of the 2016 Olympics and 2014 World Cup.

The Right To the City

Harvey (2008) sees the right to the city as more than the liberty of individuals to access the resources of the city. It is the collective right to exercise power to shape, transform and remake the process of urbanisation. To Harvey “the freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”

Some tepid liberals have spoken in hushed tones about the billions bilked from the public purse, and Citizens UK, the country’s largest community organisation, has astonishingly traded the plunder of areas where many of its members reside for a few crumbs to entrench its trademark ‘living wage Olympics’. Few in the mainstream have taken issue with the crises of housing prices and evictions.

Harvey (2008) argues that the development of capitalism is intimately connected to the emergence of cities, which require a concentration and endless search of profitable terrains for capital-surplus product with a cycle of compounded extraction, reinvestment, and expansion, hence “the history of capital accumulation paralleled by the growth path of urbanization under capitalism.”

The border of the London Olympic Park crosses some of the most working class areas in the country, and it is by no coincidence that every Olympic city chooses to situate its site in its poorest neighbourhoods. The targeted areas, such as London’s East End, LA’s South Central or Chicago’s South Side are not only the poorest but also have the highest concentrations of non-white people in each city.

In London’s case the borough of Newham, home of the Olympic Village, is the most ethnically diverse district in the country. In London’s East End, the process of forced evictions began immediately after the bid was announced with the demolishing of Clays Lane Housing Co-op and the eviction of 450 residents. Red Pepper magazine quotes one of the residents at the time, Julian Cheyne, who spoke of how ‘Compulsory purchase is a brutal process and from day one the Clays Lane community was lied to while promises were made and broken without a second thought.’

Short-term evictions and long-term gentrification go hand-in-hand. In some parts of the city, closer to the Olympic site, poor residents are being forced from their homes while beautification ‘development’ and ‘regeneration’ projects in areas as far out as Dalston Junction or Hackney’s Broadway Market have demolished a squatted social centre and theatre, whilst Council-appointed agents sell-off public land to be converted into luxury flats by developer cartels.

As with previous host cities, the displacement of residents is not limited to direct government policy. In some East London boroughs landlords have begun evicting tenants in places where rents are fetching fifteen times their standard rates, flats are now being advertised as “Olympic lets” and imposing hefty “penalty” clauses for tenants who refuse to leave.

Recently campaigners camped out in the Leyton Marshes refused attempts by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to convert the public space into an Olympic training facility. Indeed, in the past some campaigns against the Games have succeeded in their resistance. A notable example is the broad-based coalition of housing and labor activists of No Games Chicago, largely credited for foiling the city’s attempt to host the 2016 Olympics, even after pleas from Barack and Michelle Obama.

Anti-Olympics organisers in Chicago had been so successful, despite a multi-million dollar barrage of pro-Olympic propaganda to ‘cleanse’ the working-class South Side, that days before the Olympic Committee vote the Chicago Tribune found that a majority of the city opposed the bid and 84% opposed using public money to support the games.

In Rio de Janeiro, the thousands of slum dwellers who have been given eviction notices are refusing to go quietly; instead the poor have long prepared to fight and are now putting up a historic resistance in the courts and the streets. With unions holding strikes in at least eight host cities of the 2014 World Cup, and a nation-wide movement of 25,000 World Cup workers have threatened prolonged strike action. In a New York Times report, a resident, Cenira dos Santos, said of the Games, “the authorities think progress is demolishing our community just as they can host the Olympics for a few weeks, but we’ve shocked them by resisting.”

The story in each city remains almost identical. Once selected, a city expends vast amounts of public resource to begin a program of forced displacement, rental speculation, urban renewal projects, demolition of public housing and gentrification. In fact, if there is one thread that runs through almost every Olympic event it is that the poor of each Games subsidise their own violent dispossession.

As money is pumped in to develop, regenerate and ‘clean’ the city, the ‘community’ is forced to flee, transforming an urban collective identity into an individualised consumer one, defined by a narrow homogenised racial, economic and ethnic suburban ego ideal. This process of gentrification and suburbanisation results in deep political and cultural insulation, alienation and detachment; detachment of families from one another and detachment from the commons.

Detachment shapes the way individuals are exposed to and think about themselves in relation to the world, living a life of separation protected from ‘difference’. Passive acceptance of inequality is now actively espoused. The gentrification of the Olympic host city, the withering away of an urban working class, social atomisation and the subsequent erosion of political consciousness is a planned outgrowth of a city seemingly waiting to be cleansed.

Any reading of Olympic history reveals the true motives of each host city. It is the necessity to shock, to fast track the dispossession of the poor and marginalised as part of the larger machinations of capital accumulation. The architects of this plan need a spectacular show; a hegemonic device to reconfigure the rights, spatial relations and self-determination of the city’s working class, to reconstitute for whom and for what purpose the city exists. Unlike any other event, the Olympics provide just that kind of opportunity.

Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is an investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers). Worthington is the author of "The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *