Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Has Kent scaled Olympian heights in 2012?

Out of the blocks already. The 2012 Games are underway at last the new Olympic stadium in Stratford.

Four years after Beijing, 17,000 of the world’s athletes and officials from 205 nations have convened on London for 46 sporting events in the Olympics and Paralympics.

But will the Games deliver on their promise?

The signs are not good.

Let’s not mention the G4S security debacle last week – with twice as many troops now deployed in East London than Afghanistan. Although after last year’s riots this may be a good thing, and a portent for the future.

And since the Olympic victory announcement, in 2005 in Singapore, Kent seems to have little to show for the greatest Games in a generation. An Olympics that will almost certainly not come back to England this century – although an independent Scotland or united Eire may fancy their chances.

So far in Kent we seem to have had just two Kent Schools Games to improve our chances in the egg and spoon race in Rio in 2016. Possibly a tweaked train schedule.

And that’s about it. (Just yesterday a silver form Canterbury’s Fox-Pitt in horseriding).

Not even many athletic training camps in Kent given we’re so close to London - and more publicity for the Sierra Leone team in Hastings. With just 8 teams in Kent (Puerto Rico and the Portuguese trampolining squad don’t quite cut it as an economic boost do they?), yet I’ve written before of the importance and economic potential for twinning links with the Third World.

Games off-track for Kent?

China’s economy is already larger than Britain’s and seemingly unstoppable, Indian is a G20 nation, while if with the sub-Saharan economy has an economy little larger than Belgium’s now it’s destined to expand - even with only Chinese investment - and another 2 or 3 billion population in the next 50 years.

Such boom economies and surging populations – a second Mexico or Tokyo or Beijing Games if we’ve had three in a century is not impossible – will overshadow Britain this century. While the spectacle of the Games in the shade of the Pyramids or Taj Mahal or the jungles of Bali means Belfast may still struggle.

If Kent has the longest coastline in the UK, it seems a missed opportunity to not have one sailing or swimming event: the former is based in Weymouth - as far from London and Kent as possible.

Not even a Coast marathon in 30 miles of Blue Flag beaches or chalk cliffs.

And nothing for Royal Harbours and Towns such as Ramsgate and Tunbridge Wells, or even UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Chatham Dockyard or Canterbury Cathedral. Kent’s MP’s, even Canterbury’s Hugh Robertson the Olympics Minister must have forsaken an afternoon run for a snooze by the pool for the last few years.

The Olympic torch seems to have wound its way though every semi-derelict town centre in Britain. And missing the potential for the much-heralded entrance through the White Cliffs of Dover.

With the Olympics upon us, Kent has failed.

Olympic traffic jam

So, Kent seems left with little more than choked roads – and Boris Johnson braying to avoid the roads and trains during the Olympics at every train station tannoy into Kent is abysmal tourism marketing on a par with Boris Island itself.

What next? BBC announcements not to watch the Games as they take up too much space in the Radio Times? Although if you’re hoping to go online to watch the Games, then Kent’s bandwidth and wifi may well judder to a halt too.

Having marketed some of the earlier Games events, the logo and mascots of Wenlock and Mandeville are hardly Britain at its greatest while I shudder at an Olympic opening ceremony that includes a dance about the NHS. Almost as ludicrous as trademarking “London” or “2012” or “Summer”. And if the best the advertising industry can do are the Omega ads with the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up yet again or Usain Bolt dressing up as Virgin’s Richard Branson or the BT students visiting the Oleempics then it’s not even bronze for the sponsors.

And the economic effects of the Games may have been overstated: a cost of £11Bn – little more than KCC spends anyway. While the Games yield is only £750M – little more than Government austerity borrowing for a month. Why are the improvements not done anyway rather than waiting for an Olympics every 50 years?

And now Central London reporting tourism and retail sales down upto 30% year on year as people stay away from London. If only they’d come to Kent?

And if the G4S security debacle is laughable at the moment, then Kent’s potential with dozens of airports, BBC reporters flying unchecked from France to Brighton-Shoreham airport, and Infratil at Manston allowing banned flights, and even IranAir and AfghanAir, provides the potential for the most disastrous Games since Munich 1972.

Yet in the spirit of the Olympics bringing nations together, scaling the heights of sporting prowess surely there is more Kent can do for legacy activity?

Is Kent’s future Olympic?

In honour of UK basketball featuring in the Games for the first time, here are five rings that Kent could slamdunk:

1. Kent athletic prowess to be hot-housed for TeamGB in Rio 2016 – five days into the Games can you name any Kent hopeful? Thought not. And if you can, try and name a handful of Kent Paralympians – for what was meant to be the first united Games ever.
2. A 2012 parks and playing fields programmes to prevent tarmacisation – one East Kent school dug up its playing fields to create a volleyball sandpit, some three miles from the Blue Flag beaches. No doubt with a new road.
3. A 2012 swimming pool programme to expand the number of both indoor and outdoor pools. For when the tide is too rough on the Blue Flag beaches or Southern Water decide to tinker with the water supply again.
4. Kent sports nutrition programme to finetune Kent produce to Olympic events and healthy eating – McDonalds may be sponsoring this Olympics event but surely Kent apples should be to the fore if the Garden of England’s youth are to be more athletic than arthritic.
5. A Kent Olympics team established before the Winter Olympics in Sochi to develop demonstration games for future Games – not even synchronised swimming - but say wall-climbing, more pistol shooting or beach polo.

And in the Olympic spirit here are a few more thoughts: A League Of Kent Supermarkets to sponsor orchards and athletes to reduce food miles and increase farmland and biodiversity. Pfizer to turn the page on the loss of Viagra and get pumped up for drugs testings contracts at the next Olympics and sports events before Essex seizes the chance.

The Jiangsu province, China links with Essex are launching in Olympic week after 20 years of exchanges and already gearing up for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.

Kent drops the baton again.

Maybe some Future Games events that Britain might do better in – not darts – but say sport stacking or even esoteric sports such as takraw, that could be developed with the International teams at Kent’s universities and language schools.

If the Cultural Olympiad has been a bit of a damp squib – not even a Triumph of the Weald commissioned - then surely now is the time for Kent’s filmmakers and artists to demand a coherent programme of activity (shameless plug: I’m developing the East Kent Film Offices and Studio). Too often the arts rely on spasmodic Arts Council grants and weak promotion. For example, how embarrassing that the real-life 1924 Olympic team of Chariots of Fire fame trained on Broadstairs beach, yet are ignored in Britain’s third Olympic year.

Tracey Emin carrying the torch for the Turner Contemporary is wonderful but what about the next 20 years? Young artists such as Khmer poet Kosal Khiev working with UK must be the way forward if Kent’s youth are to think more of art galleries than just somewhere out of the rain to eat their sandwiches.

Kent’s beacons may have been extinguished during the Olympics, but surely now is the time to light the flame for the next ones.


Silence on Thor mercury.

Silence on Manston overflights.

Silence on 0% payrises.

Silence on tax haven Pleasurama.

Corporate manslaughter at its finest.

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