The backlash over the Games, which start in 38 days, involves more than the reflexive complaints of Negative Nigels who would rain on any parade (as if Mother Nature needs any help in that regard so far this English summer). Rather it stems from examples of commercial bullying, unvarnished avarice and tone-deaf decision-making emerging as the Olympics come into sharper focus.
And, frankly, it's hard not to find sympathy for the critics.
First there's the policing of the name, rings and anything within a rhetorical shot-put throw of the idiom and iconography of the Olympics. The inevitable kebab shop in East London has been among the victims, coerced into altering its name. (In solidarity, please seek out the rechristened Lympic Cafe if you're coming for the Games and find yourself hungry.) But there's been much more than that. Schools have had to take down anodyne banners that say things like SUPPORTING THE LONDON OLYMPICS. The British bakers' guild is advising members not to inscribe cakes with the O-word, a customer's desires be damned. A doll, knitted by an octogenarian woman in Norfolk, had to be withdrawn from a church craft sale because its jersey featured the sacred rings. A choreographer wanted to call his new work for the Birmingham Royal Ballet
Organizers are even targeting instances in which "2012" finds itself adjacent to "London." Which makes me wonder if we'll all have to disable both the calendar and GPS functions on our smartphones come July 27. Unless, of course, our smartphones are from Samsung.
Do multibillion-dollar, multinational corporations really believe that an Olympic connection is diluted by the slightest unsanctioned passing mention? Isn't their sponsorship, rather,
Last week British Olympic Minister Hugh Robertson crowed that the Games would come in $762 million under budget. We've known all along that the Games would cost billions. (Some $14.9 billion, to be precise, all but $3.2 billion of it public money.) But it's a bit rich to call them "under budget" when that figure was revised breathtakingly upwards, from an initial estimate of $3.8 billion, two years after London landed the Games in 2005. More recently the forecast price tag for security alone has nearly doubled; those additional costs haven't technically broken the bank only because the revised budget included so many Styrofoam pellets of contingency.
With sports governing bodies like GB Taekwondo drawing on public funds, and then implicating themselves in selection shenanigans like those detailed in last week's
There's plenty more to kvetch about. A range of worthies have been passed over as Olympic torch relay carriers, and despite inspirational connections to previous Olympics or volunteer work as mentors for children, they've been squeezed out in favor of marketing executives with sponsoring corporations. Bus drivers, seeking bonuses comparable to those that tube and rail workers will get for Olympics-related overtime, will strike on Friday to make clear that they're capable of doing the same after the cauldron is lit. Workaday Londoners are peeved at the presumption of officials who, in trying to reduce routine evening rush-hour traffic when fans will be leaving Olympic events, have urged commuters to delay their trips home by, among other things, swinging by the pub for a few pops. Better well-oiled, happy commuters than too many sober but grumpy ones.
But people are already grumpy, and nothing is more responsible than tickets. Let's start with the oversubscribed initial offering, which came with the sound of Web sites crashing, and left the vast majority of applicants from the U.K. empty-handed. Now new allocations, returned to the British pool after going unsold in other countries, have suddenly come available to prestige events like track, swimming and the opening and closing ceremonies -- but that's no consolation to average Brits who shot their budgets months ago on less desirable sports, believing that's all they'd have a prayer to get. When the latest block of "last-chance" tickets went on sale, people here were too exasperated even to sputter "so
No one's mood will be improved by yesterday's report in
The only balm for all this, during a summer marked by over-the-top monarchy worship, seems to be anything royal. Last week Zara Phillips MBE, the Queen's granddaughter and No. 14 in the queue for the throne, became the latest royal to capture the public's attention. After having missed out on the previous two Olympics because of injuries to her mount, she qualified for the equestrian competition on a horse called High Kingdom. The public seems not to begrudge her this, and the rider she narrowly beat out has bucked the vogue and -- so far -- declined to appeal.
Then again, where might an appeal end up? In the lap of her mum, Princess Anne, president of the British Olympic Association.
But, mustn't grumble.