In the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics, Neil Faulkner comments on the modern games in the light of the wisdom (or lack of it) of the ancients.

Unite leader Len McCluskey has called for demos and direct action that target the London 2012 Olympics this summer. Good.

Here are ten reasons why it would be entirely justified.

1. The Games, along with the Diamond Jubilee, have been hijacked by the political elite as a ‘bread and circuses’ diversion from the grim realities of the Age of Austerity. They are cutting £20 billion from the NHS, £18 billion from welfare, but they can find £12 billion for the Olympics.

2. The Games are being used to showcase Britain ‘as though everything is nice and rosy in the garden’ (McCluskey). It isn’t. The gap between rich and poor is wider than at any time since the 1920s, and the welfare state on which most of us depend is being destroyed by cuts and privatisation. Only millionaires have anything to celebrate.

3. The economic and social devastation is deliberate. The business elite who will be hogging a good proportion of the 2.2 million seats not on sale to the public are directly responsible for the crash, the crisis, and the cuts. They should not be allowed to bask in the limelight as if all were well.

4. Most ordinary people failed to get tickets. It is estimated that half those who staked £1,000 and two-thirds of those who staked £250 got nothing. Most poor people never had a hope.

5. Hardly anyone living near the main stadium has got tickets. But there will be no freebies for the deprived communities of Newham. All the freebies – 2.2 million of them – are reserved for VIPs, IOC guests, and corporate sponsors.

6. The whole event is dominated by corporate sponsorship, corporate contracts, and corporate logos. There is no democratic control, no popular participation, no engagement with the local communities and businesses.

7. The corporatisation of the Games means corruption and cover-up. LOCOG is refusing to reveal how many tickets at major events are freebies. One estimate is that six in ten of the 80,000 tickets for top events like the men’s 100m final fall into this category. Meantime, corporate sponsors are doling out tickets as bonuses to staff or hospitality to clients. Global accountancy firm Deloitte is using a ‘large proportion … to reward staff achievements’. City HQs are to become ‘Olympic reception centres’ for the duration.

8. The Westfield Shopping Centre is a moral obscenity. The whole first floor consists of designer shops with price tags beyond the reach of more than one in a hundred local people.

9. Massive transport disruption is planned throughout the Games. This is so that the rich do not have to use public transport like the rest of us. Instead, freeways will be reserved through the London streets for the LOCOG fleet of 5,000 cars.

10. The politicians, the corporations, and the rich own the London 2012 Games – not the British people. Yet only £1.4 billion has been contributed by sponsors compared with £12 billion by the taxpayer.

So if the frustration and bitterness accumulating in the dark places of Austerity Britain kicks off this summer with the London 2012 Olympics as the target, Britain’s rulers will have only themselves to blame.

And would the ancient Greeks have said? The classical city-states were suffused with the spirit of citizen democracy. That the Games could be appropriated wholesale as a ‘showcase’ for the rich and big business would have seemed outrageous. The ancient Greeks – like their modern counterparts – would have been on the streets.

Dr Neil Faulkner (University of Bristol) is the author of A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics, to be published in April 2012 by Yale University Press.

Neil Faulkner

Neil Faulkner is a freelance archaeologist and historian. He works as a writer, lecturer, excavator, and occasional broadcaster. His books include ‘A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics‘ and ‘A Marxist History of the World: from Neanderthals to Neoliberals‘.