Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
With the Jubilee over and the England football team unlikely to provide much of a lasting distraction at the Euros, the 50-day countdown to the London Olympics is now entering serious overdrive. Right from the start of the bidding competition back in 2005, hosting a ‘home’ Olympics was sold to the British public as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This was no idle boast: Along with football’s World Cup (which England can’t even think of hosting till at least 2026) the Olympics is undoubtedly the biggest show on earth. Spread across 26 different sports and with over 200 countries competing, its reach and appeal is enormous.
The sales pitch of the Olympic organisers was explicit: This was an opportunity to be there while history was being made, to witness something unforgettable first-hand, to bring the memories of past Games watched on TV to vivid life. The Games organisers did little or nothing to dampen expectation that tickets for the Games would be there for the taking.
Seasoned sports observers treated such inducements with scepticism. They knew from past experience, that demand for tickets would inevitably massively outstrip supply. Huge numbers of tickets would be reserved for sponsors and special guests, especially for the major events, and unavailable to the public. Despite pressure, the organisers have refused to release details until after the Games concerning how many tickets have been reserved in this fashion.
The organisers have sold the Games short by offering enormous quantities of tickets as part of sponsorship packages. Sponsors are involved in the Games primarily to promote their products – a reduction in the ticket concessions available would be unlikely to put them off. And those turning away would quickly be replaced by others queuing up for the commercial opportunities the Games present.
But making more of sponsors’ seats available to the public is only a start. A core organising principle of the Olympics should have been the direct involvement of the maximum number of people. With a Games comprising 26 different sports there are lots of possibilities for imaginative alternatives to the highly-centralised model that has been adopted.
Take hockey for example: Instead of being played as a mini-World Cup in a single stadium with a 15,000 capacity inside the Olympic Park, hockey could have been played across the West MIdlands. Stadiums there include two in Birmingham, one each in Wolverhampton, Coventry and Sandwell – all considerably larger than the specially built one in Stratford. The team GB squad could have been based in the area, combining their training and preparation with outreach work in schools and communities to promote the sport. A local opening ceremony for all the nations taking part would have helped to cement civic pride in hosting this part of the Olympics.
Or consider boxing. Manchester would have been an excellent host for this sport. The biggest crowd for Ricky Hatton’s fights was at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium when over 40,000 people turned up, many more than those who will get tickets to the Olympic boxing finals. Manchester could have combined the Etihad Stadium with Old Trafford, capacity 75,000, and the MEN arena too for the earlier rounds.
Volleyball? Yorkshire boasts large stadia in Leeds, two in Sheffield, Bradford, Huddersfield, Hull, and Doncaster. A regional host for this sport makes good sense and would increase the numbers who can watch. With a modest degree of reconfiguration and specially designed surfaces to lay on top of football pitches, the possibility for making a reality of an entirely different model for the Olympics is clearly evident.
Of course there will always be some events for which no stadia would be large enough to accommodate. But the spread of the programme should allow anyone who wants to come along to see at least some part of the Games. Sports such as rowing, taekwondo and swimming would, in this way, be put on the map in place of the usual roster of cricket, rugby and football.
Football is the one part of the Olympics programme which has been organised in the fashion I’m suggesting. But it hasn’t attracted the demand of tickets the organisers hoped for. I believe there are two reasons for this: Firstly, in Britain, the football tournament is regarded as not even third or fourth rate compared to the World Cup or European Championships. Secondly, people have been rightly indignant that the regionalisation of the tournament is little more than a sop to Scotland, Wales and the north, the one bit of the Games they can have. Giving the tournament a regional base, in the way that the North West was used for the 2005 Women’s European Football Championships, would have been more likely to create a popular connection to Olympic football.
So why the lack of ambition? Because the Games organisers have preferred a centralised, elitist model that combines relatively small venues and high ticket prices escalating steeply from a minimum of £20. The alternative arrangement, with the Games spread across the country, would have vastly increased spectator capacity and allowed for ticket prices that are substantially lower.
Does any of this matter? Yes, because any democratic project for sport should mean the involvement of as many people as possible. London 2012 actively prevents this. Instead of a People’s Games in which we can all be involved, it’s tickets for the lucky few, and the TV remote for the rest of us.
Mark Perryman is the author of Why The Olympics aren’t Good For Us, And How They Can Be, available at a 15% pre-publication discount from http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/olympics/.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite