Friday, 20 July 2012

Lords of the Rings.

Competitors were surprised to learn that instead of a dense conurbation, London is in fact a rolling expanse of lush countryside. Complaints that the facilties in the athletes' village extend to a post office run by an old man in a flat cap and a small church hall selling tea cakes have been vehemently denied by the ODA


Seven times I've seen or heard multi-Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson on the TV and radio over the past week. Seven. Among other things, he's unceremoniously stuck two fingers up to his fans from all those years ago by telling me that he won his races by phasing out the supporters' noise in the stadium because, as he sees it, 'they can't win it for you'. He's also sagaciously highlighted the errors of other sprinters' ways by pointing at their freeze-framed limbs on a screen and shaking his head at their outrageously misaligned postures. In addition, he told me how his antecedents' struggle to freedom from slavery are directly linked to his ability to run around a track faster than pretty much anyone else. All this in a voice so dull and monotonous that it makes Sally Gunnell’s sound like Marilyn Monroe singing to President Kennedy.

Anyway, what this all means is painfully clear. Anyone more famous for their absurd style of running than their personality should never, by rights, command so much air time. But this is the Olympics. Also known as the 'Bloody Olympics' by default in my office. It's similar to a wartime situation, this. Not just because we've drafted the army in, but because everything’s tense, slightly different from usual and because no one talks of anything else. Just like before the onset of the Blitz, millions are trying to live a normal life and battle on despite the conditions. Rationing, not of food, but of space is the reality today as we fight and we scrape and we push and we try beyond all the odds to counter the invasion.

Things are changing in London, as we've all been reminded by the authorities in the most jocular way possible. TFL have successfully managed to smuggle, through a 'humorous' ad campaign, the awful truth that no one will get anywhere at all during the Games. This is fine, if you believe the billboards with their hoards of robotic, smiling commuters happily acquiescent to the jams. Not so fine if, in reality, you're a neurotic stockbroker unable to get into Pret of a morning. The same is true of the roads which have been painted in celebration, and these murals of misery will go on to haunt us still further following the end of play as they laboriously paste over them again. Presumably ambulances will still receive priority along Games Lanes, but one assumes that they won't be readily available anyway considering the temporary surge in population and probable number of Japanese tourists calling 999 to complain that their train is late.

How cynical, you might retort. I agree, and there is a lot to celebrate during this festival of sporting excellence after all. All the more reason to visually shout about it, wouldn't you say; to brazenly display the five colourful rings of champions throughout this magical metropolis? Except you can't, not without permission. Around town, the Olympic rings logo is harder to spot than an enjoyable element to competitive cycling. There's one at St Pancras, that's a nice one, and one hanging from Tower Bridge. Plus, if you get up really close to these, you might be able to make out the ® and TM legends underneath. The other place you'll see the rings is in the previously maligned Games Lanes (probably patented so worth the cautious capitalisation), which is a sad use of such an iconic image when you think that the bulk of London's road users will subconsciously associate these with stress, missed appointments, astronomical cab fares and destroyed personal lives.

Legislation exists to prosecute anyone displaying the Olympic rings, or the London 2012 logo without permission from the London Organising Committee of The Olympic Games, or Locog to give it its altogether more menacing sounding acronym. Not that you would want to display the London 2012 logo of course, which looks like 4 slabs of concrete hastily pieced together by quick drying cement then sprayed pink, but nevertheless these trademarks are fiercely protected by the people responsible for the sycophancy towards official Olympic sponsors. Admittedly, these corporate oligarchs have gone a long way to funding the Games, but the extent that organisers will go to to protect these brands has already been widely documented, including the ludicruous monopoly on McDonalds fries within the Olympic Park. This was further fuelled this morning following Lord Coe's comments on Radio 4. So strong is the grip of these sponsors that even the head of the organising committee, the Lord of the rings, when jokingly asked about the extent of these rules could only confirm that visitors would 'probably' be able to enter Olympic venues wearing Nike trainers. 

The same paranoia surrounds the intellectual property of the Olympic logos. Anyone deemed to be 'cashing in' on these official scribbles will be ordered to remove them and could face legal action under existing legislation. Though no one has ever been prosecuted under this law, you might want to put money on 2012 being the first deployment of such powers. One cafe owner near the Stratford site for instance, has already felt the piercing gaze of the all seeing Locog eye after it was deemed that his three-year-old 'Cafe Olympic' must change its name in accordance with the sponsorship rules.

Walking around the city, it really is difficult to tell that this festival of sport is upon us. Take the jubilee, for instance, when the (unpatented) Union Jack was bloody everywhere. The lesser-spotted rings however, only really appear conspicuously along some official routes, most notably along the Old Kent Road to remind anxious dignitaries that they are still on the right track to Royal Greenwich and not, in fact, descending into the wild and unlawful ghetto of South London from where they may not escape with the wheels of their S-Classes intact.

When you consider the Games from ground level in this way, the vehement retention of the Olympic brand seems tantamount to one big bureaucratic spoiling of sport. The sad fact is that the place you'll most likely spot the colourful emblem of sporting excellence, and historically the pinnacle of amateur competition, is on a tin of Coca Cola or beneath the smudges of burger sauce on a Big Mac wrapper. Or a UPS van. All brands with solid sporting pedigree, nothing less.

And so, with the Games bearing down on us like a demented one-eyed Olympic mascot, all we can do is hold our collective breaths and stand hand-in-hand against the corporate, gridlocked, multimedia onslaught that looms on all sides. And when all is said and done, when all fades away and the population of East London wake from their sedatives, only Michael Johnson will remain. With microphone in hand, he'll lament the lack of any real modern day talent amid the dwindling lights of the spectral Olympic stadium until West Ham arrive and turf him out back to the Crystal Palace athletics arena where the twenty thousand seats will far outnumber the few people that every really cared about competitive athletics.