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Thursday, July 12, 2012 

And so it's almost here.

There is no question, Theresa May informed us today, of the security of the Olympics being compromised. Well, no, there clearly isn't. When you've already got more troops in evidence around the Olympic park than we currently have in Afghanistan, with another 3,500 now required to make up for the numbers G4S haven't been able to provide, missile silos on roofs, fighter jets on standby and an assault ship moored on the Thames, London is nothing if not secured. What it's being secured against isn't entirely clear, seeing as the threat level remains stubbornly at "substantial" rather than the critical setting it was at for years under New Labour, but you can never be too careful. And for those with a conspiratorial mindset, can it really just be a coincidence that there are thousands of squaddies in London just in time for the anniversary of the riots, considering how critical our holidaying politicians were of the Met's initial response?

As for it being a shambles, well, what else is new? Also mysterious is that it's only now that commentators are being fully critical of the entire set-up: the obscene sponsorship deals, which meant that workers at the site could only buy chips with fish at vendors other than McDonald's, until Locog stepped in (although customers, i.e., those that have bought tickets and should therefore within reason be allowed to do whatever the hell they like while in attendance, will still only be able to buy chips on their own and with anything other than fish from McDonald's), the sell-off of the Olympic village to the Qataris, as they clearly haven't bought up enough of the capital already, the "VIP lanes" for officials and general travel chaos that will ensue, and of course, the almost constant presence of Seb Coe and Boris Johnson on our screens.

Oddly enough, the one thing that has gone well so far has been the torch relay, if you can manage to overlook its origins at the 1936 games and how the Chinese last time round used it as propaganda bludgeon. Yes, we've had to put up with the likes of Will.i.am bearing it despite his contribution to the musical apocalypse, and how it isn't so much a relay as a bus tour of England with occasional stop-offs, but it really does mean something to those ordinary people chosen to hoist the flame aloft, even if it is only for 300 metres. As for everyone else, it's impossible to know to how we'll remember the games until the err, actual sport begins. I suspect once everything gets going that the events themselves will go off without any hitches, while everyone trying to do something that isn't connected to what's going on at the venues around the country can go hang for the duration.

The truth is it was ever thus. All things going well, after the games the Olympic stadium is likely to be the new home of West Ham United; not so in China, where the magnificent Bird's Nest stadium has been little more than a tourist attraction since, or in Greece, where most of the other venues have been decaying since 2004. The entire point of the Olympics and indeed the World Cup in the modern era seems to be to provide long-term benefit not to the hosts, but to the sponsors and organisers. If there are some positives for the localised area where they're hosted, then that's just a bonus. Despite the initial scaremongering, few would disagree that the dual hosting of the Euros by Poland and Ukraine this summer was something of a triumph, but whether that will translate into long-term benefits through an increase in tourism is doubtful in the extreme.

Politicians who would never of dreamt of spending £9bn solely on regenerating the East End have naturally oversold the games from the beginning. What was a vastly expensive New Labour vanity project has become a happy diversion for the coalition, hoping above hope that everything goes well, that it boosts the economy a little and might just manufacture a feel good factor. Yeah, right. There were also additional bonuses, at least according to Seumas Milne, one minister saying the Olympics were a "tremendous opportunity to showcase what the private sector can do in the security space". Well, quite. Mainly though, as long as there aren't any more disasters, it'll fill the papers during the silly season with nonsense (no change there then) overwhelming any stories about how useless the government continues to be. And considering the year they've had, that'll be enough. Whatever conclusion the rest of us reach will be irrelevant, as our views have been from the beginning.

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