I love the Olympics. My idea of heaven is several weeks of wall to wall sport. From July to September next year I will be an armchair expert on the double pike, half volley and the best technique for all three phases of the triple jump. I will know every single one of Usain Bolt’s vital statistics and I’ll scour the football teams for the next superstar of world football. In an ideal world I will sit on my sofa with all the food I need being delivered to me so I don’t miss a second. I won’t be going to the Olympics, because as you’ll understand, like pretty much every other Londoner I know I didn’t get tickets for anything in the Olympic park. Despite this, I love the Olympics and am (sporting cliché and mathematical impossibility alert) 110% behind it coming to London.
Despite this, despite my ability to enjoy literally any sport (apart from test cricket – and that’s not an Olympic sport), I am offended, gobsmacked and darn right outraged by David Cameron’s personal decision to double the budget for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic games. I don’t care that it’s coming from within ‘the Olympic envelope’. It’s still public money.
I’ve watched every Olympics I’ve been alive for. As a nine year old I go up in the middle of the night to watch live as Daley Thompson (summer) and Torville & Dean (Winter) won Olympic gold for Britain and celebrated as I watch Linford Christie win in Barcelona. I watched us fail spectacularly in Sydney. The smile across Kelly Holmes face as she crossed the finishing line to complete the middle distance double in Athens in 2004 is an image that will long live in the memory. But I don’t remember the opening ceremonies. I just don’t. Even my abiding memory of Beijing is Boris the Buffoon at the closing ceremony, rather than the opening ceremony – which I’ll admit was pretty amazing.
But £41m extra on a glorified party that the vast majority of taxpayers won’t get to enjoy – when the budget was already £40m – is obscene. It’s banker extravagance obscene in the current climate. Particularly if the NAO is right and there’s a real risk of the Olympics going over budget.
To put £41m in context, it’s ten per cent of the total amount of money that Grant Shapps allocated to social housing investment just a couple of weeks ago. It’s close to the entire amount Camden is cutting from front line services in three years – including play, and luncheon clubs and freedom passes to help mental health patients find work. As a one off investment it could rebuild or refurbish some of the schools that didn’t get their BSF funding. It would pay for the gap in funding for the Olympic Impacts on Camden that Boris is forcing our taxpayers to pick up 68 times over.
Instead the government, David Cameron personally in fact, has decided this money is best spent on a few hours of entertainment that only a few very lucky, and a few very rich, people will get to see first-hand. This at a time when councils have been forced to cancel bonfire night fireworks and spending on other community events and festivals. And at a time that if we did spend it we’d probably be pilloried by government for spending on unnecessary extravagances.
I support the Olympics wholeheartedly. I support the festival of sport. I support the regeneration of east London. I support London hosting the games. But doubling a budget for a party that already stood at £40m is nothing more than gross overspending. It should be put back in the pot to prevent other cost overruns or invested in tangible benefits in the form of the Olympic Legacy.