17 July 2012

Here's to a Gold, Silver, Bronze, London Summer Sponsor Bonus

I remember exactly where I was when it was announced that London had won the right to stage the 2012 Olympic Games; in my living room in Aldridge, watching BBC News24. We had been in Paris earlier that year and had seen their advertising and I could not believe that London stood a chance and so when I heard the word ‘London’ I whooped and hollered and was so very happy.

I love London and don’t mind admitting it. I lived there for a very long time and my son and daughter were both born there. It’s a fine city and like Dr Johnson I could never be bored whilst living there. Sure it is crowded, dirty, sometimes violent, a heaving mass of people but it is also beautiful, vibrant and relatively peaceful considering the diversity and sheer numbers of its make up. I never wanted to leave but circumstances dictated it must be so. I had only been back in Aldridge for four years when London won the Games and still felt that London was my home.

I love sport too. Always have. My first live football match was at Fellows Park to see Walsall play host to Fulham. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when Dad had finally got over the fact that I wasn’t a boy and decided that a girlie could attend a match but I suspect I was only about four. There was no stopping me after that. For many years I was one of a very small crowd week in, week out at Darlaston Town Football Club although by my teenage years there was the added attraction of watching fit young men as well as the football. Not that there were many fit young men because Darlaston seemed to mainly have old has beens in the team such as former Wolves player Terry Wharton and even the young players seemed more gifted at blowing smoke rings and drinking Banks Mild than at playing football but it was my love of sport that kept me watching.

Much to my parents and grandparents delight I became Birchfield Harrier at age 10 and my participation in athletics continued well into my twenties, as did playing league Netball. Athletics, track and field to be more specific, has been my number one love in sport terms since I can remember and it was a love I shared with my Mom. I can still remember watching David Emery winning gold in Mexico City and the joy we shared even though I really was far too young to understand the significance of his win and the world record attached to that run. We attended the Alexander Stadium and the NIA for various meetings until she became too ill to enjoy sitting for long periods of time in confined spaces. When not watching it live we would share a sofa and shout our encouragement at the TV and Dad would always say the same thing, ‘they cor ere ya, yow know’.

Back in 2005 and that announcement, first thing I did was call Mom and we talked excitedly about how we would be able to attend and watch our dream; the Olympics in Britain. Mom was ill by then but not so debilitated that we couldn’t imagine not attending. We were both looking forward to London 2012 so much and I was also excited by the fact that I could witness with my children a truly historic event that they would remember for the rest of their lives.

The next thing I did was register to volunteer for the games. For years I enjoyed the volunteering emails sent every month, kept up to date with what was going on in London and having chatted with my son got him to sign up for volunteering too. What better way to spend a summer when 18; a worldwide event in the city of his birth, enjoying the vibrancy and specialness of the event. Alas this interest proved to be the first personal disappointment of London 2012. When the time came to complete the application process I was accepted as a volunteer but my son wasn’t. No reason was ever given. On being accepted I then read through the masses of gumf and realised that although a meal would be provided when on duty (presumably of the fast food variety by one of the sponsor partners) plus travelling expenses within London itself, no allowance would be made for travelling to London or for any accommodation costs. I was on my own at the time of this discovery and really could not afford to be a volunteer.

Never mind thought I, at least I could go and watch something but the whole ticketing fiasco put paid to that consolation. I did try again after the initial ballots but the only tickets that were available were way out of my price range. Aiden and I even tried for tickets at various practice events to no avail.

I still wanted to be involved in some way though and thought that perhaps it would be a truly wonderful thing if my son could carry the torch at some point through his adopted home town of Walsall the day after his 18th birthday. He’s battled through so much during his life and I thought that maybe that could be recognised. I called up the online forms to nominate him but after some deep reflection decided that he didn’t stand a chance and knowing how he’s not good at dealing with rejection, the form was never sent. I was pretty upset therefore when looking at the profiles of those chosen to carry the torch through Walsall, how few of the chosen actually came from the Borough, how many were chosen by those ‘partners’ and that my son was just as deserving of such an honour. So I didn’t stand by the roadside and cheer them on because it all felt so very false.

That sense of falseness continues with the sponsors,sorry read partners tax dodge and the sponsor control over everything to do with what should be our Games. They are not. Yesterday I read that brand police will despatched all around the country to ensure the sponsors exclusive rights over words such as ‘summer’, ‘gold’, ‘silver’, ‘bronze’ and even ‘London’. Then there’s the beer (never mind the chips that’s been done to death!) where Heineken are the supplier of Olympic ‘beer’. They will be serving up John Smiths as British Bitter and Strongbow cider, well that will be just ‘cider’. Lord knows what the world will think about our beer and cider if this is all they can get at Olympic venues.

When you think about it, it doesn’t really matter what city in what country hosts the Games. They can be held anywhere and the same crap in terms of food and beverages would be served up by the partners. A wonderful opportunity for any city and country to market all that is great, good and wonderful about them is no more for it is only the sponsoring partners that are allowed to do that. I have no desire to see cities and countries bankrupt themselves in the name of hosting the Olympics but the commercialism now involved means they don’t have to because they’re hosting an event without spirit, that has forgotten what it supposed to be about. The Olympics is just one big marketing opportunity...but not for the host city.

I will be watching the Games on TV and I am hoping fervently that athletes such as Mark Cavendish, Sir Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah and even our own Ellie Simmonds in the Paralympics, give me genuine goosebump moments that have me jumping up and down in the living room and making the TV wobble and where I’ll hear my Dad from half a mile down the road shouting ‘they con ere yow in Lundun’. I’ll be celebrating their individual achievements as true athletes that I admire enormously participating in something that I have loved all my life, that happens to be taking place in a city I adore but those partners? I’m not buying their hype.