x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Athletes' lustre undimmed despite the bureaucratic muddle

Despite the glitches that are bound to occur In London because of the confusion, and the traffic, sport has a great capacity to bring people together.

Last Saturday, the UAE Ambassador to the UK formally raised the country's flag at the Olympic Village in London. The largest UAE contingent in history, made up of 32 athletes, including one woman, is taking part in the Games and will be competing in seven sports.

They kick off their campaign later this week, with the footballers competing against Uruguay in Manchester. Whether or not the UAE athletes succeed in winning medals, they will chalk up several personal bests. They've already achieved a lot by reaching the Olympics at all. I wish them well, and hope that their years of determination, blood, sweat and tears earn them more achievements.

Our athletes and officials may find London and Manchester somewhat different this summer. Stratford, the home of the main stadium, will be crowded with hundreds of thousands of visitors expected for the Games. It will be a significant change from usual, as Stratford isn't on most tourists' itineraries.

The Games are having quite an effect on the rest of the city, something many Londoners aren't very happy about. The creation of Olympics-only traffic lanes is causing so much disruption that drivers have been advised to leave their cars at home and rely on public transport.

Another one million travellers are expected on the already overcrowded Tube. In addition to the delays at immigration control at Heathrow, and a planned one-day strike by immigration staff, there will probably be more than a few frayed tempers. A number of my London-based friends are planning to take a holiday during the Games to get away from it all.

There will be an obvious presence of armed forces on the streets and in the air, thanks to the security contractor G4S's widely reported failure to provide enough security guards. The soldiers will perform their duties well, although I feel sorry for those who have had their leave cancelled so that they can guard the Olympics, after having just completed a tough tour of duty in Afghanistan.

During my visit last week, I hoped to pick up a few Olympics souvenirs - a couple of T-shirts perhaps, or a key-ring. Sadly, very few were to be found, thanks to the ridiculous stranglehold that commercial interests have been given over the Games.

Using the Olympics logo without permission is illegal because of the introduction of special legislation just for the Games. To quote from a story in The Guardian last week: "In recent months, Locog [the London Olympic organising committee] has been criticised for strictly enforcing sponsorship advertising rules after a butcher near the Olympic sailing venue in Weymouth was asked to remove a sign displaying a ring of sausages and saying, 'Fantastic 2012', and a cafe on the torch relay route was asked to stop advertising its 'flaming torch breakfast baguette'."

There has even been a report that a long-established firm of local bakers, called Olympia, were told that they couldn't use their name in advertising.

Last week, the Locog chairman, Seb Coe, a former Olympic gold medallist, was quoted as saying spectators wouldn't be allowed to wear Pepsi T-shirts because Coca-Cola was a sponsor (there was a very rapid retraction). It all leaves a rather nasty taste in the mouth - and that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that McDonald's is another major sponsor.

I hope the Olympics go well, despite the glitches that are bound to occur because of the confusion, and the traffic, and the mix of commuters, ordinary Londoners and visitors.

Sport has a great capacity to bring people together in healthy competition. Although the Olympics have become distastefully over-commercialised, that unifying factor will remain a defining aspect of the London Games. I shall watch our team's performance with interest.


Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in Emirati culture and heritage