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Jenny Jones AM Headshot

London Olympics: What Is the Cost to Liberty?

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An Olympic legacy is an issue that we are all obsessed with because we need something of permanent significance to come out of the games. The Olympic Head Honchos, Lord Coe and Mayor Boris Johnson are as obsessed as the rest of us: "It is to create the best Games the world has ever seen by unlocking the UK's unrivalled passion for sport, by delivering the best Games for athletes to compete in, by showcasing London's unmatched cultural wealth and diversity and by creating a real and lasting legacy." says Lord Coe while Mayor Boris Johnson says "ensuring a true Olympic legacy - 11,000 new homes and 10,000 new jobs."

However there is a downside to all the talk of legacy. For example housing is where the first force of the draconian Olympic laws were felt. Olympic 'regeneration' schemes in Newham, such as at Custom House and Canning Town, have seen existing homes demolished, communities disbanded and residents displaced and moved often leaving them considerably worse off. Cities that play host to the Olympics generally seem to have a disastrous track record with over 70,000 residents forced out of their homes prior to the 1996 Atlanta Games and up to 1.5 million Chinese residents in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Games.

It's no secret that when it comes to making demands the IOC is like a greedy toddler. For instance, the host cities have had to change their laws to comply with the Olympic Charter, which states that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

The hastily put together Olympic Act 2006, gives police the right of forced entry into private property to remove unauthorised advertising or protest banners. This includes: "advertising of a non-commercial nature" and "announcements or notices of any kind" paying particular attention to "the distribution or provision of documents or articles, the display or projection of words, images, lights or sounds, and things done with or in relation to material which has or may have purposes or uses other than as an advertisement". Even more worrying is that the right of forced entry is extended outside the police force to staff contracted to the ODA. Surely this can't be right? People no longer allowed to protest in their own homes?

The IOC also makes host cities police Olympics-related intellectual property rights. So Parliament adopted the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act of 2006, which defines as a trademark infringement the commercial use of words like "games," "2012" and "London" in proximity. London must ensure that there is no non-official propaganda or advertising in the airspace above the city while the Games are going on, and for two weeks prior. No Olympic venue, and no access routes to any Olympic venue, may be decorated in any way "that would conflict with or cause a breach of any" official Olympic corporate sponsorship. People going to watch the Games cannot wear commercial messages different to the official IOC approved sponsors. Presumably being dressed head to toe in Nike is out then? Gutted.

Then of course there was the irony of Jeremy Hunt declaring that London businesses were "quids in" thanks to the Olympics. The reality is markedly different. Special "brand police" can and have fined London tradespeople up-to £30,000 for daring to use any of the trademarked Olympic names of "Games", "2012" and "Olympics." Beware a rogue cake shop hoping to cash in. Poor Mrs Miggins with her Olympic themed cakes could be in big trouble when the brand police catch up with her. So how exactly are small businesses to make money from the corporate mammoth that is now the Olympic Games? Put simply they don't. But the sponsors do. I sometimes expect to see the McDonalds CEO walking out of the (biggest ever) McDonalds with a bag marked SWAG. So far the Olympic Games has cost Britain £9.3bn. This seems ludicrous at a time when most people are feeling the iron fist of austerity cuts.

Lastly came the tragically unnecessary mass arrest of 182 cyclists at the weekend for daring to enter into Olympic exclusion zones. One of the people arrested was a 13 year old child and it was reported that at least one policeman used tear gas. There was little discussion about how stringent police bail conditions are being used to keep the cyclists out of the picture for the duration of the Games.

I'm not a sports' party pooper. Far from it. But I am worried about Londoners and the impact that hosting the Olympics will have on our great city. Any extra powers gained by the state over the citizenry should ring alarm bells because of the danger they will become accepted and permanent.

Of course there will be people who argue we must turn London into a temporary prison so the 2012 games can be the best ever. To them I give this quote from the great Benjamin Franklin: "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security. "

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