Sunday 15 July 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

On your marks, get set, and... what's that? Oh, no, SAS troops rushing down the stands, tanks breaking through the walls into the stadium. Usain Bolt standing in the middle of the track, looking confused like Aleksandr Orlov. What's caused this pandemonium?

Someone decided to light up a fake cigarette in a "no smoking" area.

If the above scenario looks like a joke to you, then, think again. A very real, similar event took place just a few days ago near Lichfield, Staffordshire when the passengers of a coach bound for Victoria station, London, were forced to evacuate the vehicle amidst fears that there was a bomb on board.
The ancient Olympics. Not a brand in sight

Welcome to London's Olympic Games 2012!

I've been trying my best to leave my cynic's mask at home these days but it almost feels as if the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games doesn't want me to. In between scares from the sponsors about what products I'm allowed to bring into the venues with me and which ones will leave me with a hefty fine, scares about the budget (that was ages ago and it was never sorted out. We were way over then and still are) and scares about tickets availability and allocation (it's just transpired that a huge chunk of them are going to corporate guests) my initial enthusiasm for the Olympic Games has diminished. Not that I was ever over the moon about them in the first place. Although I do confess to having felt proud for a nanosecond when I found out that the British capital was to be the host.

What is it about big sports showcases that makes otherwise responsible adults behave like over-excited children in a sweets shop? Already London 2012 is shaping up to be a sponsor- and brand-driven fest (and, pardoning the pun, a "feast" for the lucky few who will be making a few bob out of hoi polloi). Have a McDonald's for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Down the plastic-texture burger with a good ol' XL-sized bucket of Coca Cola. Dessert will come courtesy of a Cadbury's chocolate bar. And get drunk later on (although for those whose teams do well in the medals table, this will probably start early in the morning) Heineken. You see? I just sorted your diet. For a fortnight. Someone, please, pass us the sick bag.

I'm not being Mr Curmudgeon here, although this might be the first step towards my Cuban persona being taken over by a British one. I'm a sports enthusiast. I support an English football team (Chelsea), two international ones (Brazil and Argentina. There's an oxymoron for you) and still root for my hometown baseball team (Industriales). The concept of money in sports is not alien to me either. To Chelsea, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich's favourite toy, I can add The New York Yankees, the team I support in the Major League in the US. But I take all this fan's malarkey with a pinch of salt. The time when I wouldn't talk to a girlfriend because Industriales had lost to Vegueros in Cuba's Baseball Championship are happily over.

The Olympics are different. If you go by their history they should, in theory at least, call to a nobler part of us. In ancient Greece conflicts used to be put on hold until the games finished. And as far as I know there were no brands to advertise.

However London 2012 is slowly becoming the prostitute of the sports arena. And I profusely apologise to those involved in this trade. I mean no offense to you. But what's been happening for the last couple of years in the British capital is the closest you'll come to getting shafted for dosh.

I've personally been there before, in Cuba. In 1991 we staged the Panamerican Games, a sports meeting held every four years between countries from North, Central, South America and the Caribbean. In 1991, however, the "special period" (or economic crisis to give it its proper name) was in full swing in Cuba and the Panam Games (as they were known) were seen by many as an unnecessary waste of money. In hindsight, we were right. Security was tight. Athletes, foreign television crews and tourists were encouraged by Cuban officials not to mingle with the locals, except for designated areas to which the guests were taken (the US delegation, especially, was under close surveillance. Needless to say, the government's efforts were pretty useless. The Yanks did whatever took their fancy). The immediate outcome of the games was an apartheid-style split down the middle between those who had access to the new tourist facilites and those who didn't. As someone who had just finished his second year in university and had secured a summer job for the first time ever at a nearby hotel, I experienced first-hand this division. The Capri Hotel where I worked for six weeks in '91, was one of the three venues where the US television crews stayed. I saw corruption, bribery and theft almost on a daily basis amongst the hotel staff, including senior management and security personnel. This was the beginning of a terrible period in our socio-economic and political history and I still strongly believe that the catalyst was the Panamerican Games.

Fast-forward to London 2012 and what have we got? A famous area in east London, Stratford, whose reputation owes more to deprivation than middle-class aspiration. Yet the Games were meant to change that perception and inject much-needed cash into its regeneration programme. Instead what we have ended up with is a military lockdown. Which has had to come into force because G4S (the company tasked with providing the security personnel) cannot guarante the supply of the 13,700 guards it was contracted to deliver. Shambles doesn't even begin to cover it.

Snipers on roofs, a total takeover by the likes of McDonald's and Coca Cola and foul weather. I know that once the Olympics get going I will join my wife and children on the sofa (we have not got any tickets to any of the events, of course) or maybe at Trafalgar Square (apparently they'll have a big screen there and the National Gallery, one of my favourite places in London as you all know, is also in the vicinity) and cheer for Cuban and British athletes. And once the Games are over, I will join friends and colleagues to whinge about the opening ceremony, the technical glitches and the weather. To which I can only reply: Dear A Cuban In London, your transformation is complete. You are now a truly British citizen.

And this is all for me for the time being. I will come back in the second week of September to let you all know how the Olympic Games went. That is, if I survive them! :-) The blog will not be closed, though. I will have a mix of music and past posts to entertain you all. Since I'm doing the stay-cation holiday this year it's very likely that I will carry on visiting your blogs and reading your fabulous posts. Have a brilliant summer break.

© 2012

Next Post: “Coffee and Music”, to be published on Sunday 22nd July at 10am (GMT)


  1. It must be most difficult in London right now and I bet it promises to get worse. On the branding and sponsors that is to be expected with major companies spending as much as they do. I get that but for the small person it can be most annoying I am sure. Hang in there. Here in my house we will not be watching it all but I wish team USA luck just the same.

  2. It's very weird visiting London at the moment. I'm not into big, mega-sponsored, over-crowded events... but I hope there's something a bit more special about the Olympics despite my natural cynica streak. I was involved in a Physics Olympiad competition, many years ago now, and it was an amazing experience to have so many people from different countries living and competing in one space. I hope the Olympic athletes get even half of that feeling from the experience.

  3. I probably AM Mr Curmudgeon where all this is concerned!

    Tour de France? Brilliant! Wonderful! TV coverage? You are immediately talking names - Wiggins, Cavendish, Cadel Evans, etc. Oh yes, and the teams are called after businesses...

    Who's taking part in the games? From the ads I see on TV it's BP and Lloyds TSB. The athletes seem to be reduced to actors in TV commercials.

    Sorry... I should cheer myself up and get in to the spirit of it all. Probably. :)

  4. It's not just the banned products at the venues... Have you seen the list of prohibited words that traders and others must not use in their advertisements (unless they are official sponsors, of course)? Words like "summer", for example - and armies of word police going into the offices of firms to enforce the bans!
    Good job it's still a free country!

  5. You just made my husband’s night by posting All Around My Hat, one of our absolute favorites. I had to play it twice. We’re Chelsea supporters too. It’s funny; I’d have guessed you were an Arsenal supporter. My family cheers for the Boston Red Sox, but I’m torn about the Yankees since I grew up in NYC. It amuses me that you support the Yankees too.

    Our American friends are amazed that our British relations are quitting the UK to visit us in Maine during Olympic season, but it’s not like they’d see any of it, although my nephews ran along the street beside the torch carrier in Bristol. I’m happy to not be in London for the games, myself. I can already imagine all the delays on the Underground etc. I heard the hilarious story of the foreign athlete’s bus getting lost for hours in London. Still, it is an honor to host. Keep us posted.

    Sorry to be so late to visit. I’ve been offline and outdoors with my kids. The Maine summer is short so we must make the most of it.

  6. I can well imagine the onslaught of miseries on citizens when anything of the stature of Olympics is organized in a city. I caught the news about the bus getting lost that Sarah mentions in her comment above. When I saw that, my first reaction was, "Ah! so this happens in places other than India as well... !"
    Have a great summer ahead

  7. You may be a British citizen but your heart is still Cuban. Maybe mine is a little as well. My nephew just competed in the international pre-collegiate games for volleyball and guess who won? Cuba! I was so excited seeing all those smiling brown faces. My nephew actually purchased the Cuban track suite (it was the coolest) and I almost snatched it off of him. Of course, the U.S. won a bronze medal and I'm very pleased for that but you'll never see me snatching any U.S. suits.

  8. Many thanks for your kind comments. It's going to be a very funny (as in strange) and exciting period, I reckon.

    Greetings from London.



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