Armchair Pundit

The Olympics’ religious war

Alex Chick

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Travel chaos; shambolic security; waterlogged venues; stadium capacities reduced.

Just over a week before the Olympics start, London 2012 appears to be negotiating the final straight with all the sure-footedness of Dorando Pietri - the marathon runner who stumbled and staggered over the finish line at the 1908 Games in London.

Look at today's Olympic update from Reuters.

In one piece, it manages to squeeze in the following news lines:

-G4S security fiasco
-Opening ceremony curtailed
-London's creaking transport network
-Athletes' buses getting lost
-Poll shows only 3/10 Britons are excited
-500,000 tickets withdrawn from sale
-Taxi drivers' protest outside parliament
-Boris Johnson bellowing instructions to commuters

It is quite the catalogue of woe, and nicely summarises a thoroughly downbeat lead-in to the Olympics - save for neglecting to mention the dismal weather, which threatens to disrupt the action.

LOCOG's advice on Tuesday to those attending equestrian and rowing events at Greenwich Park and Eton Dorney could not have been any more British: wear wellies.

They might as well have draped a giant 'Keep Calm and Carry On' banner over the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge.

The Daily Telegraph's Paul Kelso has claimed the pre-Games panic has redefined the five Olympic rings thus: security, weather, transport, tickets and Twitter.

Should we really be down on the London Olympics?

Negative stories dominate the headlines, but isn't that merely because the positive stories are so boring?

Monday was all about a 32-mile tailback on the M4 (not actually Olympics-related), and athletes' buses going on four-hour magical mystery tours around London en route to the Olympic village.

The more significant story was that Heathrow had its busiest day ever, and came through it almost entirely unscathed. More significant but less interesting. Therefore largely ignored.

As for those lost buses, reported by tweeting athletes such as Kerron Clement. Similar things have happened at most Games (a natural consequence of bringing in extra non-local bus drivers), but the Twitter age has made their reporting easy and instant.

As Kelso notes, it took an athletes' sit-down protest in 1996 to alert anyone to the useless transport system in Atlanta.

And the withdrawal of football tickets is an issue based less on low demand than an excessively ambitious schedule - 50,000 in Hampden Park for Colombia's women against North Korea was never even remotely likely.

Even the G4S disaster, unquestionably the most serious pre-Games cock-up, should not have any appreciable effect on the security of anything more than Nick Buckles's job.

Essentially, the doom-mongering exists to fill a vaccuum before the actual sport gets under way.

Previews are always boring, and lead to the sort of nonsense that adorned the top of the BBC website on Tuesday: "Blake on Bolt: Win or lose, we're friends".

A consequence of the largely sceptical media and public attitude has been something of an Olympic religious war.

There are those who suggest, not unreasonably, that since this is the only time in most of our lives that Britain will host the Olympics, we should at least try to be cheerful.

But there is a thin line between gentle encouragement and fun-nazi hectoring - a point made forcefully in an amusing blog post by the broadcaster Martin Kelner.

As so often, the Olympic debate is framed in terms of pro- and anti-, with very little room for shades of grey.

This is a shame, since to my mind the Olympics is nothing but shades of grey. Just look at the sky.

Like most people, I imagine, I am largely positive about the Olympics but that doesn't mean blithely ignoring the corporate, paranoid downside.

Nuance doesn't work, though. If the largely neutral shouted their ambivalence from the rooftops, it might. But of course rational discourse will always be drowned out by the strongest, most extreme views.

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Alex Chick will be writing about the Olympics throughout London 2012.

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