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The surveillance Olympics

If gold medals were awarded for surveillance, then Britain will win a hatful at the 2012 Games. The Metropolitan Police hopes to use no fewer than 500,000 CCTV cameras to police the 2012 Olympics Games in London. All of its own cameras, numbering a mere 10,000, will be pooled with traffic, congestion and other cameras across the city to create a network, the BBC reports. This network “would be operated from a command centre, in London, by military, police and intelligence services … It is understood the command centre would remain in place after the Olympics”. Just like that!

And the plan does not stop with the cameras. The Met’s head of special operations Tarique Ghaffur, has outlined a number of other measures: the division of London into three security zones to make the arrangements more effective; the use of three helicopters for close surveillance during the games; an automatic number plate recognition system; and the issuing of tickets that are linked to the identity of buyers, whereby a spectator “will be tracked from the venue to his or her home with these tickets”. Ghaffur also promised a conference in Abu Dhabi that there would be stringent checks, including biometric fingerprinting for the 40,000 workers building the venues.

All this represents another big lurch towards the police state that even some respectable commentators are warning about in the capitalist press. The London Olympics, for the police, the military and the spooks is an irresistible opportunity to test out new ways of monitoring and controlling a population. The state, in a period of crisis and uncertainty, like that of today, constantly seeks to re-arm and strengthen itself. Led by New Labour, the forces of the state try to turn every event or feared event into an excuse for taking away the freedoms of people and raising their own powers. The so-called,“terrorist threat” becomes the pretext for new restrictive laws and mass surveillance that actually leaves aside the real causes and issues around terrorism.

All these measures are preparation for something other than terrorism, however. The ruling and political classes understand very well that as mortgages, fuel bills and food prices rise and as the financial crisis intensifies and workers lose their jobs, there will be upheavals. The history of this country shows time and again that the masses will defend their rights and their liberties and that is why the state is tooling up with cameras on every corner and database-driven ID cards.

The Games themselves over the last 30 years or so have become more and more an arena for the big corporations to advertise themselves and to market their products and less and less of a genuine sporting spectacle. The media companies, who broadcast to 3.9 billion people at the last games in Athens, also make a killing.

Athletics, the main sport at the Olympics, is hopelessly compromised by drug-taking, leading to scandals, lawsuits and phoney results. The 2012 games will cost at least £10bn (rising all the time), apart from the security bill. Many people and small businesses in East London have been forced out of the area, and arts and community projects have been starved of funds, as lottery money is channelled to the Olympics.

And yet a different scenario, a not-for profit Olympic Games without corporate sponsorship, is not hard to imagine. Sport, released from the orbit of the profit-hungry mammoths, would re-discover some of its old values and sportspeople, free from the pressures of winning at all costs, and in a different cultural environment, would soon learn to eschew drugs.

The games would ultimately be owned, controlled and organised by the athletes, the fans and the local community. Their organising committee could of course call on the same experts, planners, designers, architects and others who are doing the work now, but, freed from the agenda of the globalised sports industry and governments that support big business, the games would soon become a different - and uplifting – event, without the sinister and pervasive security that is going to be a feature of the London games.

Peter Arkell
11 March 2008

Fiona says:

Agree with this. The Olympics as presently constituted have had their day. The Greek protestors slogan during the Athens games was "Let the Olympics die in the land of their birth". That didn't happen, but maybe London will be the death-knell for Olympism and the birth of a new kind of Games and sports in general.

Also check out the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the opposition to them here.

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