Thursday, 2 August 2012

Games Without Finance: Capitalism Can't Compete

I didn't support the Olympics coming to Britain; but, once it was happening, I will admit, I really enjoyed much of the Opening Ceremony (industrial revolution aside!) and the success of athletes from all over the world, notwithstanding the odd quibble, is impressive to behold - not least the young British athletes who have worked so hard, sometimes with little support compared to their rivals.

I really liked the idea of Mitt Romney not only being so embarrassed by his carping about arrangements, but when that wonderful NHS symbol went up, what was he thinking as he sat in the audience watching? This, after all, is the man representing the morons who claimed that Obama's limited healthcare initiative was "Nazi Communism" and that the British health service is run by a series of "Death Committees" (I kid you not). There was even the American rightwinger who claimed that if Stephen Hawking was British, the NHS would have let him die years ago. Until, of course, Hawking pointed out he is British and has only ever had medical treatment from the NHS...

Public services- delivering better health and better Olympic Games
However, there have been many aspects of the London Olympics which show how the original ideals of the Games have been subverted by money-making; and money-making that, like so much of contemporary free market capitalism, is not working even to its own limited standards.

First we had the scandal over G4S paying security staff £1.50 an hour less than they claimed when setting their fee; "training" them months in advance and then expecting these low paid staff to sit, unpaid, by their phones, refusing all other offers of work for weeks and weeks until they got a phonecall from G4S (which we know now in many cases never came). All so that they could come in to work in temporary roles of a maximum of four weeks duration. And, of course, G4S barely recruited a third of the people they undertook to hire, lost touch with lots of them and failed to train or rota many others.

Big Fail - although G4S still intend to collect their full £59 million fee from the Government, which must have involved about the worst worded contract in history...

Who takes up where the profiteers of private enterprise have failed? Why, public staff - soldiers and police; both services currently facing swathes of redundancies. A number of the soldiers deployed at the Olympic Park face a very doubtful future in terms of their employment, while police numbers are at their lowest in years. But both services appear to have very quickly and effectively filled the gap left by G4S and their arrogant management.

But the private sector has also fared very badly in terms of services to visitors to the Park. Not only have the food outlets sold out half way through each of the first few days of the Games, failing to cope with demand, but Visa obtained agreement from Locog for a "cashless" Games - so if you want food, you have to pay with a card, preferably a Visa card.

But what happened? Well yesterday, the card machines all failed at the Wembley stadium, where Olympic football was underway. From cashless Games, suddenly they became "cash-only" Games. But, bowing to their sponsors original ethos, stadium officials had disabled all the ATM cash machines on the site - so thousands of spectators had to do without (though since the food had sold out anyway, perhaps it didn't make much difference!)

Since the outset, Locog has been criticised about its sponsors and their control over Olympic branding. Coca Cola and McDonald's (who have the largest outlet of their franchise in the world at the Olympic Park) are hardly bywords for sport and health. Olympic athletes are at least notionally amateurs: their success if they enjoy it may later bring them financial gain; but for the Games, they are signed up to the ideals of fair competition. But outside the stadium, the Olympics, it seems are now marred not by fairness or even competition.

Instead, monopolies have bought up rights to supply and profit from a captive audience. Yet in their greed and short-term thinking, just like the banks, the City traders and all the other "private-public partnerships" that proclaim social good while actually thinking about pure profit, it seems they just can't deliver anything right. Their total disinterest in the Games themselves is witnessed by the thousands of empty seats allocated to corporate sponsors who, having got the logo, just want payback, not sports.

With profit-margins squeezed for every last penny, just-in-time delivery systems collasping, consumers ripped off and low paid staff in insecure jobs, capitalism isn't going for gold. In fact, it's not even off the starting blocks.

Below: G4S would now like someone to run their recruitment service - perhaps they should have started earlier?

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