A Sporting Chance

A few days ago I had a letter of mine read out on BBC Radio 4, although not for the first time. If it is at all possible I seem to be getting even more unhappy with the way the world is run as I get older, and I have sent several missives Broadcasting House in recent months, jabbing the email send tab with the same self satisfied flourish grumps from another age despatched stamped, hand written envelopes into the gaping mouths of letter boxes. That’ll give them something to think about. Maybe?

The remarkable thing is it did. The programme, You And Yours, was taking the nation’s temperature in the run up to the Olympic Games. Coming the week some athletes had revealed that they have not been allocated enough tickets for even the closest members of their families to see them in action. Meanwhile a survey discovered that less than half the population is excited by the prospect of the games. Fifty three per cent of respondents said they weren’t interested.

In the light of these, and other controversies, including the much touted post games infrastructure and sporting legacy, and the fact that the capital will be in gridlock for a month, the BBC had thrown the spotlight on what the event actually means to Londoners, and the population beyond the capital, as far flung as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The finding here were even gloomier. Ninety eight per cent said it had nothing to do with them, “all it does is spend our money,” chimed several.

“A monstrous vacuum cleaner sucking up resources to spend on real estate in London,” wrote someone from up north.

The other time a letter of mine was read out on air, in full, was when PM’s Eddie Mair, himself a bit of a wag, asked listeners what caused their depression? This is a subject I am becoming something of an expert on and the cause of my own was read out in full, just before the pips at six. 

My gripe this time was about the ticketing. I was pleased when London secured the games. We do big, national events well. And there isn’t much bigger than the olympics.

I still think fondly of Brian May, ten years ago, playing the National Anthem on the roof of the Palace, for the Golden Jubilee: younger readers note he was in a band called, Queen. Tickets would be expensive and the way we were instructed to apply for them beggared belief;  Allocating payment whilst agreeing not to know what events we would be going to until some time after the funds had been removed from our bank accounts. Steering clear of the big ticket events, that would surely be over subscribed, I applied for everything from sailing and rowing to a couple of track events. At what would have been a cost of about £1500, if I’d got them all. Nearly all of my friends pitched in for similar amounts. We didn’t apply for the 100m sprint or the opening ceremony. Our applications were more like each way bets, trusting that something in the lower orders would come good.

Some plan. I didn’t get one ticket, and neither did any of my friends. Out of six London families non of us would be going to the games. In fact, I haven’t met anyone with tickets. Later a number of corporations, Barclays among them, launched competitions with olympic tickets as prizes. The tickets Londoners had applied for were being used as a marketing tool. Next, to compensate for the miss selling of synchronized swimming events,  10,000 tickets, for alternative events, were conjured up and handed over by way of  compensation. Where had those tickets been? At the back of the filing cabinet?

The final slap in the face came with the ‘Test Events’  – events, held in advance of the games to see how the new facilities would shape up? We were asked to pay for these as well. Shouldn’t they have been free to the Londoners who applied, but failed to get to the real things?

It all leaves a bad taste in the mouth. So when You And Yours asked its listeners what they felt about the games a lot of us angrily booted up and hit ‘send’. It’s going to be like having the world’s greatest cocktail party in your own living room – except the door is locked and you can’t get in. Just  another TV event, I wrote.  And I seemed to have caught the pulse of the nation, because except for a few infant school teachers who write to say their little ones were besides themselves with anticipation (which is lovely) a slew of letters were read out extolling a level of detachment that flies in the face of the spirit of the games.

It all makes for entertaining radio, but it’s not got me any tickets for wrestling – Greco Roman, or archery. On the other hand a 54 inch flat screen television to hang on the wall will work out cheaper.

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