Brendan O'Neill: And the gold medal goes to…
This week, the world’s greatest sporting spectacle, the Olympics, will kick off in London. The finest physical specimens from man and womankind will gather in our capital to grapple over who is citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger).
But first we’ve had the pre-Olympics competition of curmudgeons, a fight to the death between the most miserabilist specimens from British officialdom, all trying to outdo each other in Olympics-related killjoyism.
From terrorism panics to fearmongering over the spread of diseases, these joyless bores have done everything in their power to paint the Olympics as a threat rather than an opportunity, a moment for watching our backs rather than watching spectacular human feats on the track and field.
It is only fair that these prophets of doom’n’disease win some recognition for their Olympian levels of cantankerousness. So in the spirit of celebrating human achievement, here’s a medal ceremony for the miserabilists.
The gold medal for cultivating a culture of fear goes to… the Home Office. Congratulations, Theresa May and your minions! This medal is in recognition of the sterling work you’ve done in depicting the Games as a magnet for every crackpot terrorist from across the globe and encouraging Londoners to be permanently panicked.
Not only did you publish a fear-riddled Olympics and Paralympics Safety and Security Risk Assessment, which warned that “terrorists may have aspirations to use non-conventional methods such as chemical, biological and nuclear substances”, you also put your money where your miserable mouth is by mobilising 20,000 “security guards” and 17,000 soldiers (more than we have in Afghanistan), while mooring a massive warship in the Thames and dispatching Typhoon fighter jets to patrol the skies.
Great work. We’ll all feel safer knowing that our capital is temporarily occupied by jittery, massively armed troops on the lookout for nuke-wielding foreign nutters. What could go wrong?
The gold medal for disgust with the masses goes to… The Lancet. The weekly medical journal has done an outstanding job of painting mass events like the Olympics as incubators of disease and puke and various other gross things.
In a series of articles on “mass-gatherings health”, it lined up a bevy of chin-stroking experts to inform us that, with visitors coming from every bit of the globe, the Olympics might morph into “a hotbed of diseases from across the world”. One expert solemnly intoned that “the capital is expected to see almost 800,000 additional people use public transport each day, which is an ideal breeding ground for viruses”.
This medal acknowledges The Lancet’s huge contribution to the cause of anti-foreigner suspicion, where we Brits are implicitly implored to avoid contact with Olympics fans from Over There, lest we catch something nasty.
The gold medal for sacrificing the principles of justice at the altar of political expediency goes to… The Crown Prosecution Service.
It isn’t only Usain Bolt who wants to show the world how fast he is. The CPS is taking part in a sprint of its own, setting up a ‘fast-track’ court system to punish what it calls “Olympics offences”.
As a CPS spokesperson said: “Many people who come to the Olympics won’t live here, so it is important that if offences are committed, we act quickly. People who commit offences on Tuesday will be in court on Wednesday.”
What about the possibility of miscarriages of justice when the cops and courts are expected to feel people’s collars in such an unnaturally fast fashion? Never mind all that! The pumped-up CPS will leave the old, creaking principles of justice lagging at the startline just as surely as Usain Bolt will leave his challengers behind.
This medal recognises the CPS’ heptathlon-style ability to take part in loads of different miserabilist events at once. In combining spreading panic about crime with stoking suspicion about “people who don’t live here”, it has achieved a double whammy of Olympian doom-mongery.
The gold medal for anti-Olympics miserabilism disguised as anti-capitalism goes to… the New Internationalist.
This was the most hotly contested event of all. Every newspaper in the land has had handwringing commentary about what a disgrace it is to spend billions of pounds on a mere sporting event (to be enjoyed by, er, billions of people).
But the winner must be New Internationalist magazine, for branding the Games a “cocktail of corporate power” and “celebration capitalism” and a cynical attempt by the rich elites to create yet another money-making “empire”.
And you thought it was a simple, inspiring occasion for human wonder and prowess? Idiot.
Brendan O’Neill is a columnist for The Big Issue and the editor of Spiked Online