Saturday, March 03, 2007

Jowell and Coe have been duped by the biggest overselling scam in history

An unelected clique of high-spenders is breeding a £1bn-a-day London games. Gordon Brown should slam his fist down

Simon Jenkins - Friday March 2, 2007 - The Guardian

Last Wednesday the London Evening Standard carried the headline: Olympics bill soars to £10bn. The figure is rising by roughly a hundred million a month. At this rate a 16-day athletics and minor sports meeting will soon be costing £1bn a day: not £1m a day, that is, or £100m a day, but a thousand million pounds a day. I can only repeat the question that I put at the start of this bizarre affair. Is there literally no figure that Tessa Jowell and Gordon Brown might consider to be too much?

At this level of spending the NHS computer is a bargain, Trident a no-brainer and the Dome petty cash. The new Royal Opera House cost £214m, Tate Modern £134m and Wembley stadium £795m. They seem cheapskate. And they are permanent buildings. The Olympic stadium, needed for under three weeks and for which no further use has yet been found, is already costing £630m. Soccer, rugby and cricket can somehow contrive world championships without such spending. What is it about the Olympics?

While I thought that Britain did not need the Olympics, I shared the city's delight at being selected. I hoped only that its ministers had the clout to call the bluff of the high-spending International Olympic Committee (IOC) and initiate a new generation of dignified, low-cost world sports festivals.

Instead Jowell and Lord Coe have been victims of the biggest overselling scam in history. This week Denis Oswald and Gilbert Felli, two so-called trouble-shooters for Jacques Rogge, the president of the IOC, flew in to London from their Swiss headquarters, where everything that talks, walks and eats is paid for by someone else, usually under compulsory taxation.

These people are like pre-Reformation cardinals. Since the Olympic pope graciously allowed Britain to sponsor his latest crusade, he has heard nothing but complaints from the peasantry over the cost. It is giving his "brand" a bad name. Why cannot the British behave like the Chinese, who are coughing up $30bn for his ritual in decent silence? How dare they question gilded taps in the Olympic village or teakwood lining to executive boxes, or swansdown seats on the loos? Where is the Olympic ship, promised to carry pilgrim children (I kid you not) from Peking to London? And what of legacy? The IOC likes a legacy or two to gladden its press releases.
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