POSTED: January 4th 2012

NEIL WILSON: What price an Olympic Games in your backyard?

Aerial view of the Olympic and Paralympic Village / London 2012
Aerial view of the Olympic and Paralympic Village / London 2012

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON: My abiding earliest memory of the 500 acres to the east of London that has been transformed by an Olympic Games into the largest park created in Europe for 150 years is a mass of abandoned supermarket trolleys in polluted waterways.

That was 2003, two years before London won the right to host the Games when the area was an industrial wasteland of fridge mountains, scrapeyards and decaying disused factories crossed by gigantic pylons.

A tour conducted by British Olympic Association’s then chief executive Simon Clegg, the spirit behind the bid long before Sebastian Coe was called upon to head it, hardly left its media audience full of confidence that the phoenix that would arise from it would be the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

What is there now is truly magnificent, clean, clear waterways, wildlife and maturing trees. I blink to believe my eyes whenever I am there, and that is not the rose-tinted vision of a Londoner proud that the city of his birth managed to fulfill its promise. See it for yourself this Olympic year and be amazed.

New hotels and apartment blocks, mostly finished, fill the surrounding streets. A $2 billion shopping centre, Europe’s biggest, is open for business on its eastern edge alongside a new station to bring 20,000 passengers an hour.

The latest poll, by The Times, found that three in four Britons want a part of it this summer, either as spectators or television viewers. Three in four of all tickets are sold, with the remainder to be released by April.

So everybody is happy? Not exactly, and certainly not in the locality. The arrival of the Olympic Games has pushed rents through the proverbial roof, pricing many into move to less yuppified postcode.

An increase of 8,000 new jobs is forecast but only 20 per cent of those have gone to locals, and the local mayor doubts that many in that statistic are true locals.

A local MP, Diane Abbott, put the local attitude best when she said of the Olympic Park: “More and more it seems like a gigantic shimmering Star Wars entity which ordinary East Enders can see but cannot touch.”

My son lives one station stop from the Park. He can see the Stadium from the front door of his apartment. Not in July and August though. He will have headed for the hills, anywhere but London.

He failed to get a single ticket for events in the Park in last year’s ballot. No preference was given to locals. And he knows that getting to work will be even more tiresome than usual during the Olympics because of the lanes reserved for Olympic VIPs and the tens of thousands descending on the underground trains.

So the promise of “one of the boldest urban transformations in the world” may be fulfilled in full by this Olympic Games. How many though of the 23% polled who reckoned it a waste of time and money might be found in East London itself?

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · London 2012 · Neil Wilson · Olympic Games

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