Monday, 3 September 2012

Homeless me at London's Corporate Olympics

The Olympics, in London.  How could I resist?  Anyone who knows me more than likely knows how much the Olympics means to me.  Read the paragraph about Kelly Holmes in the "Inspiration" tab (link) if you don't.

London had been transformed; the stereotypical attitude of unfriendly, closed British people was nowhere to be found.  It was now a city full of friendly, open people chatting, cheering, and enthusiastically waving every flag the world has to offer.  It honestly felt like everybody was friends with everybody.

I spent my days in the parks which were showing live coverage on huge screens.  The crowds were massive.

Mexican fans

I was there for the football final between Brazil and Mexico.  I sat with the Brazilians; they were so enthusiastic with their chanting and singing that it seemed like the whole world's media was recording them.  Surprisingly, they lost 2-1.  Their disappointed faces were followed by clapping for the Mexican supporters twenty metres away who were crying with joy.

I was there when the British men's kayakers took Gold and Silver and the crowd going absolutely wild.

Jade Jones

I was there to see a very normal looking girl named Jade Jones awkwardly explain to an interviewer and a 50 000 strong crowd how she managed to win Gold by defeating the unbeatable Chinese Yuzhuo Huo in Taekwondo.  We were treated to interviews from various British Olympians, all of them seemingly oblivious to the impact they had made on so many people's lives.

I was there to witness Britain's Mo Farah run the 5000m final.  It was such a close race that by the last lap the crowd around me were screaming so loud it was deafening.  The noise made in the last 100m must have burst a few ear drums!  He took Gold and I was joined by thousands of other people in the park screaming and jumping for joy.

I was even there for the funniest-looking sport ever... the race walk.

 Now why was I homeless, you might ask?  Well, minimising costs in one of the most expensive cities in the world meant sleeping rough in the parks.  This way I saved money on accommodation and didn't have to fork out for underground train tickets... because I was already where I needed to be!  Most night I slept hiding behind an ice cream stand in Hyde Park.  Two policemen found me one night and instead of being thrown out of the park like I expected, they just wanted to make sure I was OK and that my parents knew where I was.  My nights were very short; the crowds were completely gone only by 1am at the earliest and each morning I was woken up before 6am either by community-service litter-pickers or by squirrels throwing nuts around in the tree above me.  My sleeping bag kept me warm enough most nights but one thing I definitely decided on was the best invention the world has ever had is a bed.  I'm sure you can imagine sleeping on the ground once or twice, but night after night really takes a toll on you!  I really can't explain well enough how amazing beds are.  For this reason, I want to pay homage to the inventor of beds: oh bummer, apparently there isn't one.

On the last day of the Olympics they decided to charge fifty-five pounds for a ticket into Hyde Park.  The only place with free viewing was Victoria Park, so that's where I went... along with probably more than 100 000 other people.  As soon as the closing ceremony began the atmosphere was electric.  I could feel the emotion of every individual in that massive crowd when they showed the highlights of the entire seventeen days.  The music lifted spirits and within minutes the entire crowd were on their feet dancing and singing their hearts out.  I'll be honest now, there were quite a few moments were tears escaped my eyes; it was sometimes just to much to take in.  The end of the games were marked by the fireworks which we could see in the near distance.

What an incredible two weeks.  I am so happy that I got to experience it.  The Olympics is my favourite event the world has on offer, it was in my own country and I was there.  No, I didn't have tickets to any events even though I had applied since the very beginning.  It annoyed the hell out of me when I could see  spare seats in the stadiums.  And yes, there were so many injustices with the money spent on the whole event.  To say that it will benefit London's tourism and our economy is definitely a lie when you take into account that McDonalds, Coca Cola and other such corporations had the monopoly on the entire event, and when you take into account that local businesses were banned from using anything related to the Olympics because they weren't official sponsors.  Some people are calling this the Corporate Olympics.  That is true.  Britain is in a double-dip recession yet it spends 9.3 billion pounds of the tax-payers money on an event that only really benefits corporations.

We came third in the medal table, which is incredible considering that we have nowhere near the population of other countries such as Japan, Russia, and even other European nations such as Germany.  The number of gold medals per million people looks like this:
CHN: 0.14
USA: 0.66
FRA: 1.07
KOR: 1.23
GBR: 1.33

I am so proud of this and also that we made such an incredible show for our own people and the rest of the world.  Other countries are now apparently looking at our sporting system for inspiration.  And that's where the shop window affect comes in: to show off your best items whilst the reality is very different.  Yes we did amazing winning so many medals, but in my opinion our elite sports reflect in no way how our foundation sports are going.  There is nowhere near the amount of funding or facilities, and therefore opportunity, in foundation sports in Britain as there are in countries like the USA and Australia (speaking from direct experience).

I went to a state school as a child and I remember the Physical Education lessons being abysmal.  We had more than 100 kids in one sports hall, sharing four badminton nets and playing with broken rackets and shuttle cocks.  Most kids gave up after two minutes and sat on the benches for the rest of the hour.  The others spent their time hitting the shuttle back and forth in a space not big enough to move from your spot.  We had the same "lesson" once a week for one hour... two years straight.

In my hometown, they recently knocked down the only public leisure centre within miles and in it's place built a car park.

These are two examples of exactly what needs to change.  Our Olympics may have "Inspired a Generation" and I hope more than anything that it will, but unless our government spends more money in state schools and in impoverished neighbourhoods and towns, as well as take the monopoly of football off our tv's and show other sports more often, then our sports system will just continue to be more and more imbalanced.  History shows that it takes much more than inspiration to change the participation in sports... in anything for that matter.  Funding makes facilities makes opportunities for all.  Personally, I would rather have the entire population participating in cheap or free sports clubs than winning one more gold medal at the next Olympics.
That could be possible.  People are inspired, they just need a chance.

The following day I had nowhere to hang out or be entertained, so for no reason at all I headed to the shopping centre near to the Olympic Park.  After wandering around for not even five minutes I started noticing quite a few people who looked very convincingly like athletes.  I stopped by one guy who was sat on three huge sports bags with the Team GB sign on them.
"Are you in Team GB?" I asked him.
"Yes." He replied.
"Which sport?"

And that's how I spent the rest of my day... searching for athletes!  I met two women from the South African rowing team, two Japanese kayakers, a Chilean discuss thrower, a Czech 400m runner, two Tanzanian long distance runners, and a gorgeous Algerian wrestler.

Me & Denise Lewis

I stopped after a few hours, sitting down on some steps for a drink.  Something caught my eye and I jumped up to ask another lady for a picture.
"Yes, just one minute hunny."
"That's five pounds please"
I was pretty star struck so I didn't have anything funny to say in reply to her joke.  After all, it was the Olympic Champion from Sydney in 2000 and now one of Britain's most famous sports people; Denise Lewis.
Wow, now I really had topped off my experience!

"Inspire a Generation"
Let's hope so!

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