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Games of the rich & powerful

This article is over 19 years, 11 months old
The Athens Olympics start this week in a blaze of hype and publicity. Panos Garganas from Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece looks at the disastrous effect that hosting the games has had, and what it could mean if the 2012 Olympics come to Londo
Issue 1914

THE OLYMPICS seem to be an innocent enough event. Who could object to people having some fun and watching sport? Won’t ordinary people benefit if the Olympics come to London and areas are regenerated?

But the promised regeneration didn’t happen when the games were held in Sydney or Atlanta. In Barcelona ordinary people found their community and housing was swept away, and replaced with posh flats and an area geared to the tourist trade.

The Olympics in Athens will leave most people in the city worse off.

It is the first Olympic Games since George Bush launched his “war on terror”. The security budget in Athens is three times more than it was in the Olympics in Sydney, Australia, four years ago.

For a small country like Greece to spend almost £1 billion on security is a tremendous waste of money. But it’s not just the economic pressures.

The Greek government has invited NATO to set up a “security umbrella” over Athens to protect it from a terrorist attack.

The US 6th Fleet will be in the Aegean, patrolling the seas. There will be army units coming into Athens to “protect” it from biological and chemical attack.

Under the cover of the Olympics, Greece is being drawn deeper into Bush’s war. This is in a country where over 90 percent of the population is opposed to the war.

On top of this, there is the usual cleansing of the city’s “unwanted elements” in the run-up to the Olympics. Immigrants and poor people are being swept off Athens’ streets. They are dumped in special places—Olympic prisons.

The pollution caused by preparing for the Olympics has been effectively like a chemical attack on the city.

There has been a huge construction programme of motorway building. They want to facilitate access to the various Olympic and tourist sites.

This has meant a dramatic increase in air pollution.

The World Health Organisation recently published a report saying the limit for dangerous small particles in the air should be ten microgrammes per cubic metre.

The average in Athens last year was 56 microgrammes throughout the year.

Yet the European Union says this level should not be breached for more than 35 days a year.

At the moment the level for London is below 20 microgrammes. Be prepared for a dramatic worsening in air quality if the Olympics come to London.

The rush to complete the various sites for the Olympic facilities brought a construction boom, which many people hailed for providing employment.

But, under the pressure that things must happen quickly, construction companies were given a licence to break all rules and regulations.

They could do anything they liked. There were no safety regulations, leading to the huge cost of 78 construction workers’ deaths.

The companies believe this is something that they have won.

They will keep breaking the rules after the Olympics because it allows them to speed up production and be “efficient”.

Other workers are being pressurised to work in worse conditions during the Olympics. Hospital workers have been forced not to take holidays this summer.

There has also been a speculative bubble in real estate in Athens, encouraged by the approach of the Olympics.

Rents have been pushed up. Young people are having difficulty finding flats, as are people who want to buy their own house.

The Olympics will leave a lot of debt. The original budget was 4.6 billion euros. Now they say it will cost something like 10 billion.

This is a huge amount for a small country like Greece.

And most of the facilities will be privatised. The Olympics have been used to introduce the Private Finance Initiative to Greece.

We have had privatisation before, but not private companies coming in, building a site and then owning it for 20 or 30 years.

The present government thinks this is such a good idea that they want to extend it to schools. The new motorways are toll roads, so drivers have to pay to use them.

All this commercialisation is so obvious in the Olympics. Coca-Cola is the sponsor. So everywhere you show the Olympic flame, the symbol of peace and goodwill, you advertise Coca-Cola.

But there has also been resistance to what is happening.

Ambulance workers and paramedics struck last week over bonuses for the Olympics. Hotel workers have also struck, and other workers are protesting.

Transport workers have been asked to work longer hours, more flexibly and with worse conditions. They have been on strike, saying they will not drive during the Olympics unless they are paid a £2,000 lump sum.

If the Olympics come to London it will be worthwhile considering a campaign to stop the ruling class imposing the same attacks on British workers.

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