x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

London's Olympic pride was also looted in the riots

Two weeks ago, all seemed wonderful in London. Now, with buildings on fire and windows smashed due to rioting, all that goodwill for Olympics has faded.

Two weeks ago, David Cameron and Boris Johnson, each of privileged upbringings and beneficiaries of the finest education money can buy, were fully in accordance.

London was wonderful. So wonderful, indeed, that the unalloyed triumph of next year's Olympic Games was already a given.

With a year to go, Cameron, the British prime minister, announced it would be the "greatest ever Games in the world's greatest country".

As he spoke at the celebration to start the countdown until the start of the Games, the top brass of the Olympic movement looked suitably impressed. Even the pigeons in London's Trafalgar Square had been called to heel and were on their best behaviour.

Johnson, the mayor of London, took up the theme with characteristic brio, floating the idea of having an impromptu Games the following day, just to show off how brilliant the city was.

"The theatres will be ready, the buses will be ready - with a hop-on, hop-off feature," the floppy-haired mayor said of London 2012.

"The hotels will be ready, the bicycles will be ready. The venues are already so ready we may as well call a snap Olympics tomorrow.

"See you in 366 days!"

Then they both went off on their hard-earned summer holidays - and all the country crumbled as soon as their backs were turned.

Pride comes before a fall. London's image has plummeted as a result of last week's mass civil disorder, and there will almost certainly be an effect on the Games.

There is a complete disconnect between the London the privileged politicians have been trumpeting and the one inhabited by the disaffected lower class who were rioting so visibly last week.

The Olympics were supposed to bring regeneration to, and improve the aspirations of, the people living in five of the most deprived boroughs of the city.

If last week is anything to go by, it is going to take a lot more than some running around a track and a bit of a hop-skip-and-jump to bring about change.

In the past week, Britain's leading red-top tabloids have been imploring the public to "shop a moron" in the wake of the unrest.

One mother was so disturbed by seeing her daughter as part of one mob on the television that she reported her to the police.

As it happened, her daughter was an Olympic ambassador, a volunteer who was set to welcome visitors during the Games.

She has ceded her chance to fulfil that role, as she preferred to throw bricks at shop windows on a day she apparently described as "the best day ever".

The accused had been her area's Young Sports Performer of the Year in 2008. How sad it is that she gained more of a thrill from allegedly ransacking a mobile telephone store than any of her achievements as track runner.

How much of a blemish on the idea of the restorative power of sport is that?

Setting aside the legacy of the Olympics, how the 17-day event itself plays out could even be challenged by the unrest.

Where there was such an overwhelming sense of goodwill two weeks ago, now there is scepticism - could the money spent on the Big Show not have been used more wisely elsewhere? - and concern.

There was already the pall of a terror attack to be scared of, now what about the return of mob rule?

At the cricket World Cup of this year, the beggars on the streets of Bangladesh were taken away for the duration of the tournament - admittedly, they were reimbursed for their lost earnings - because they provided an unsightly image of the country.

Can London merely sweep aside its own problem by rounding up all the looters and keep them locked up until the Games are finished?

Hardly.

The show will, of course, go on, and the powers that be are putting on a brave face. To borrow a modern football phrase, London has a history for bounce-back-ability.

Yesterday, a peloton went whizzing through the city unencumbered in a cycling test event, just days after the carnage.

Even when the prime minister, having curtailed his holiday, was meeting to address the emergency, volleyball players in teeny swimsuits were competing on a temporary beach nearby in another Olympic test event.

Time is a healer, and by the time the Games come around, last week will have been forgotten about.

Whether it should be, however, is another matter.

 

pradley@thenational.ae