Trenton Oldfield’s protest at the Oxford-Cambridge boat race has provoked a variety of responses depending on who you are. Looking down on the swollen Thames and seeing some of the things floating past, I thought that I wouldn’t want to go swimming in that. The friends whose son was cox for last year’s B boat, with whom I spend boat race afternoons, were at first worried about the interloper’s safety (with his empty head presumably acting as a flotation device as it bobbed between the oars of the Oxford team, Oldfield is lucky that it’s still attached to his shoulders), and then cross because they properly understood the commitment and graft that had been blown apart by this twerpy action.
Further east, the London Olympic Committee reeled back from their monitors in silent shock, splayed fingers fluttering over open mouths, eyes wet at the prospect that, yes, this can mean only one thing: more money must be spent. How will the Trenton Oldfields of this world conspire to ruin the Olympics? How can we stop them?
Well, you can never legislate for the stupid. But I would be amazed if someone in scuba gear wasn’t fished out of the diving pool, or some wag replaced the batons in the relay with Ann Summers products. I’d be even more amazed if we didn’t have some repeat of the violence that we had last year, possibly in Stratford’s newly opened Westfield centre helpfully situated in the heart of 2011’s looting blackspot.
What can be done? The Olympic Committee will ask themselves as they rub their hands, sore from cheque-signing. Well I am no expert, but neither are they, so perhaps this will be helpful: they could look back to their pitch for hosting the games, and you know that bit about creating a legacy for young people? I feel like the answer lies there somehow.
Sheldon Thomas is an expert, though, and he is of the view that the London Olympics haven’t delivered on jobs and apprenticeships for young people in the east end. Employers brought in overseas workers to build the Olympic village, and cooked the books to pass off foreign workers as ‘local’.
It doesn’t really matter that they’re foreign, though it makes for good headlines; fact is, apprenticeships and jobs were promised to east London youth, and whether the construction is carried out by Lithuanians or Geordies, this promise hasn’t been delivered.
Meanwhile, youth culture (or a bunch of expensive cultural consultants’ idea of youth culture) has been hijacked for the benefit of big business. The numbers are so big, they defy comprehension. BA posters claim they will be serving enough tea during the Olympics to fill three swimming pools. I don’t ever drink tea when I fly, so this astonishing figure represents only a portion of the flying public. BA must be coining it from the Olympics. How good of us to host this business opportunity, and how good of BA to remind us of this and other startling statistics on a series of posters. I don’t mind BA making a profit, though; what I mind is that there hasn’t been an equivalent of opportunity for people on the literal and figurative ground.
You can’t pitch the Olympics to appeal to young people, ramp up the prices, deny young people the opportunity of earning money through meaningful employment, rub their noses in naked profiteering, then look shocked when they run amok. They were promised jobs, instead they got asked to volunteer their labour for nothing, and unless the rules have changed, that would mean losing the benefits on which they’ve become reliant.
And what of the volunteers? I have an excellent example in my mother, who as a keen quilter is part of a group of like-minded people who are making quilts for every athlete to take home at the end of the games as a memento. This is all very touching, hands-on, Big Society stuff. She has been given a list of things that she is forbidden from sewing onto her quilt, including the 2012 logo. This is the sort of brand management paranoia that even George Lucas might have second thoughts about. Quilts aren’t slick; quilts aren’t corporate; quilts aren’t youth. So thanks, mum, for your commitment, and your enthusiasm, and your skills (remember those?) – but don’t get your hopes up that you can enjoy the sort of cosy relationship with the Olympics extended to the well-known health food proprietors McDonalds.
My mum can’t, unfortunately, compete with Tom Daley to be the face of London 2012. Tom is a marketing committee’s dream come true: bang in the middle of the age demographic, looks good in his pants and possibly the only model in the world who doesn’t sweat a random drugs test.
Back to the boat race: it’s been said that there’s no real harm done from a bunch of toffs having a crimp put in their afternoon. My counter argument is always that you don’t justify such actions as Oldfield’s by invoking the (perceived) class of the participants. You wouldn’t so cheerfully persecute someone for being working class. And yet, in east London, that’s exactly what has happened.