Friday, 3 August 2012

Olympic legacy? You're having a laugh, aren't you?

A study of Sydney by Australia's Monash University found there was no tangible benefit "or economic boost" from the Games. An IASE report on Atlanta called Bidding for the Games: Fool's Gold? found that "diverting scarce resources from more productive uses translates into slower rates of economic growth". Civic leaders talk desperately of "legacy" but no survey can find any. Barcelona saw hotel occupancy fall from 80% to 50% in the year after the Games. The city's subsequent prosperity is now attributed to cheap flights and the Spanish boom. Beijing has seen no games-related uplift.

On London, an exhaustive 2006 report for the European Tour Operators Association pointed out that sport is a "notoriously narrowly focused" form of travel, with no spillover into wider tourism. "During the Olympics, a destination effectively closes for normal business," it warned. Mark Perryman's spirited survey, Why the Olympics Aren't Good for Us and How They Can Be, charts the same tale. More ironic is Mitchell Moss's How New York City Won the Olympics. It points to how, by losing the 2012 bid, resources allocated to the Games were diverted to the Lower West Side and other, now booming, locations.

There is no shred of evidence for claims still being made by the government and others of an Olympics profit, fast weakening to a "promotional legacy". Nor is there evidence of ministers recovering their brains. Today the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, described talk of ghost London as "absolute nonsense". The city was booming, he said, and "quids in". The sports minister, Hugh Robertson, attacked ailing businesses, saying: "This is hardly a surprise … there has been ample time to plan for [the Olympics]."

Their problem is they did. For years Robertson's department told everyone to prepare for a boom. Hotels raised prices and took on extra staff. Bus and tube drivers were paid bonuses to cope with the crush. Central London was told to expect an invasion and that residents should stay at home. This was the tone of every statement from the mayor, Boris Johnson, and his transport boss, Peter Hendy. Either these men were lying or their apparatchiks dared not tell them the truth.

I can find no warning in recent years from any official body that August 2012 would be anything but a cash-rich bonanza. Last week Johnson was still hyperventilating like Big Brother over tube loudspeakers that passengers should expect "a million extra visitors a day". He must have known this was rubbish. Reports were pouring in from London business associations of trade at hotel, restaurant, theatre and other tourist venues plummeting by an average of 30%. With August always down, they had been told to greet a "games uplift". They must have a strong case for a class action against the mayor, who has been milking the games for all the politics he can.

Clearly the authorities massively misjudged, but it was entirely because they refused to believe the evidence of past games. They were glory-blinded. Had the government said from the start that London was a rich city staging the Olympics as a costly but generous gesture to the world, there could be no further argument. Ministers said no such thing. From Cameron down, they claimed the games would make money, now and, if not now, then some time in the future. This was plain dishonest. Everyone knows there is no Olympic legacy, but, as with Santa Claus, we dare not tell the children.

Simon Jenkins (extract), The Guardian

ADDENDUM 04.08.12
Meanwhile, Michael Burke writes, also in The Guardian, that "the prospect of an Olympics bounce would have been far greater if the mayor of London had not cut the budgets for all the agencies promoting tourism, international students and foreign direct investment to London."