By Anand Philar
It is London's turn to take some stick from international Media and I am sure that our CWG organizers will not waste any opportunity in jumping on the bandwagon of critics that is growing in size as the Olympics closes is on us.
Given the kind of technology that is at our fingertips, London will be under even more closer scrutiny than any previous Olympics host and perhaps much more than Delhi ever was in 2010 ahead of the Commonwealth Games. And the signs are rather ominous for London.
For all its perceived modernity, London still largely retains remnants of the "old world" characterized by its narrow, twisting streets, some of them paved with cobblestones, and pubs with quaint names, to an extent that you half expect to run into an Oliver Twist or a Fagin rounding the corner!
The unbelievable 51 Kms traffic jam perhaps best highlights the notorious London traffic. I have never driven in central London, but have out in the scenic countryside and on the motorways in Suffolk without getting stuck in a jam. But, I have seen the jams around Silverstone during the Formula One week when you can end up waiting for hours to get a move on.
Athletes who have moved into the Olympic Village have not wasted much time to tweet their complaints ranging from getting lost on the drive from the airport to “small beds” and such, but there is something "traditional" about these stories in the run-up to a major event when the focus is not so much on sports as issues concerning inconveniences and shortcomings.
On my many visits to London, I have often marveled at the narrow streets with shades of Dickens' England. The traffic indeed crawls as the speed limits and driving etiquettes dictate the flow of vehicles unlike in India where might is right on city streets. So, one can well imagine the scenario with part of the road cordoned off for Olympic traffic, something that our Delhi administrators tried during the 2010 CWG, causing great deal of hardship to locals.
In fact, traffic was the very reason why Silverstone almost lost its right to host Formula 1 as the organizers had to ensure better traffic management. As for London, it has reached saturation point and one fears a breakdown next three weeks when in-bound traffic will be at its peak.
Four years ago, Beijing and China set a benchmark in organisation and conduct of Olympics, pouring billions of dollars to create a make-believe island of pomp and pageantry besides constructing venues of mind-boggling architecture and scale. During my visit to London in 2010, I did get to see some of the venues, but none of them came anywhere close to those in Beijing in grandeur and style.
In Beijing, the traffic management was rather regimented and it meant taking circuitous routes that were cleared of non-Olympic traffic. A fortune was spent to present Beijing as a very modern city populated by young people though it meant ruthless relocation of people living in the poorer sections of the city. Of course, in London, that is not possible, though the authorities would have indulged in a round of spring cleaning.
If anything, the London Games will yet again highlight the ever escalating costs of hosting Olympics besides the attendant problems. Some estimates put the expenditure at 50 Billion Dollars, comfortably exceeding the reported 43 Billion Dollars that Beijing spent.
I shudder at the costs Brazil will incur to host the 2016 Games in the teeming capital city of Rio that is also the venue for the 2014 World Cup football final. With the Olympic budgets escalating by the year, there are already murmurs of viability of hosting the Games while some even question its relevance, even if it is only in terms of size and scale, at a time when our planet has pressing issues like global warming, spiraling population and poverty.
Londoners are coughing out an additional 20 Pounds on their annual property tax to cover the Olympic Park costs. Accounting experts believe that London would saddle a debt of about 230 Million Pounds.
The high ideals that the “father of modern Olympics” Baron Pierre de Coubertin held receive only lip service, if at all, with the Games entwined with politics these days, and so much the pity. For all that, Olympics continue to enjoy a special aura that inspires athletes to overcome all barriers and author some stunning stories of success.
The London Games are sure to throw up their quota of triumphs and of course tragedies. There are sufficient indications for one to believe that new benchmarks will be set, especially in swimming and athletics with both likely to dish out some mouth-watering contests.
And yes, we cannot talk about London and England without mentioning the weather which is the best topic to start a conversation in Old Blighty. Like in 1908 and 1948 when London hosted the Olympics, wet weather is forecast during the fortnight which will add to the gathering chaos. Still a week left for the start of the Games, one can only hope at this point that the Gods will shower some benevolence and not just rain so we can enjoy the magic moments of Olympics.