London resident Zita Holbourne plans to participate in Friday’s Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, held at the gleaming new stadium located not far from her community of Newham.
However, Holbourne, a trade union activist, is not participating as one of those lucky enough to have secured an expensive ticket to attend the glitzy Opening Ceremony.
Holbourne is participating in a community forum Friday on behalf of the legions of unlucky London residents who’ve received no jobs, no contracts or other economic benefits from this multi-billion dollar premier international sports competition, touted as a vehicle for helping low-income Londoners.
“The Olympics have been a disaster. The Olympics have not created opportunity for Black communities,” Holbourne said.
British officials secured the Olympics for London on pledges of providing improvements for low-income and minority residents in England’s capital city. Nearly half of London’s population is non-white.
Holbourne, co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, will participate in an “Alternative Opening” not far from the stadium to continue efforts opposing austerity policies of the United Kingdom’s conservative government that many across that nation say are producing rising unemployment, injustice and inequality.
Omowale Rupert, a member of London’s Pan-Afrikan Society Community Forum, said the 2012 Olympics is “being used as an excuse to siphon money from the pockets of ordinary people — the bills will be left for us and the profits will go to the transnationals.”
Rupert once competed as a high jumper in international track-&-field meets, including the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
The London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) is the first ever Olympic organizing committee to have a Diversity and Inclusion Division.
Preparations for the games did achieve many of LOCOG’s stated goals like reclaiming long derelict toxic industrial wasteland in East London (where the stadium and other game’s sites were constructed).
Yet LOCOG’s pledges for jobs and contracting opportunities, particularly for uplifting Black, ethnic, minority and low income whites living in the five London boroughs abutting the 560-acre Olympic Park remain unfulfilled, according to many community leaders and residents from those five “host” boroughs.
The host borough of Tower Hamlets, for example, has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in London, but only 1,700 residents from that borough held any of the tens of thousands of Olympics-related construction or retail jobs, according to a report in one London newspaper earlier this week.
London Olympic officials have earmarked one-third of the post-Olympics housing in the apartments built to shelter athletes for low-income residents of those host boroughs. Officials said 27 percent of the work force that built the athlete’s housing lived in the host boroughs, but foreign workers imported on construction contracts were counted as “local residents” if they found housing in the host boroughs.
The majority of the Olympic facilities, including the main stadium and the athlete’s housing, are located in the host borough of Newham.
“Newham is an area where minority ethnic people make up the majority of the population and in [Great Britain] over one million young people are unemployed with one in two young Black people unemployed,” Zita Holbourne said.
“Newham was one of three boroughs where the deepest cuts were made to the budget as part of the [conservative government’s] austerity program. Yet it is one of the poorest boroughs,” Holbourne said, explaining that austerity budget cuts mean severe slashes in services, jobs and facilities.
Insult to Injury
The latest edition of The Voice, Britain’s most influential Black newspaper, carried the lead headline: “Broken Promise – The Olympic Diversity Dream has failed to deliver.”
In another example of diversity disappointment, London Olympics officials denied The Voice credentials to cover the coveted track-and-field competitions inside the stadium.
A petition drive initiated by Holbourne, plus wide-ranging pressure from across Britain, forced London Olympics officials into a reversal where they provided The Voice coverage credentials for those competitions filled with non-white athletes.
Business development specialist Devon Thomas, director of Lambeth Enterprise, and a respected community leader in the Brixton section of London, said he isn’t “disillusioned” about failed Olympic diversity pledges, because he had “no illusions” about Olympic inclusion.
“Black people received nothing contract-wise. The big boys on the inside sliced up the contracts,” Thomas said.
“I brought together an international consortium including firms from America. We had capacity to perform construction but we were still left out. The European boys cleaned up,” Thomas said.
“Exclusion is institutional. We get a tiny flake of a crumb.”
Simon Woolley is another London leader who considers exclusion as one of the “greatest tragedies” in this Olympics that British officials secured based on pledges to utilize Olympics-related economic expenditures to close remaining inequality gaps.
“It dawned on us early that organizers’ where not beholden to opportunities for the ‘left out.’ I went to a main Olympics sponsor and asked for [diversity] involvement and I was run out of that major bank. The exclusion is truly shocking,” Operation Black Vote head Woolley said. OBV is one of Britain’s most prominent civil rights/human rights activist organizations.
As London officials focused on finalizing Olympic preparations during the past three months, including mobilizing more military assets for security than Britain sent to America’s war in Iraq, activists in that city hosted separate programs featuring two American Olympic legends: Tommy Smith and John Carlos.
During the 1968 Olympics, Smith and Carlos performed the iconic Black Power salute protest against racist deprivations when receiving their medals for taking first and third respectively in the 200-meter dash.
“Massive crowds came out to see Tommy Smith and John Carlos. They were well received,” Omowale Rupert said.
Paul Bower, who worked on securing Olympics related jobs for residents of the host boroughs, reminded that LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe, a former Olympic champion, said LOCOG couldn’t solve everything while stressing that LOCOG’s job was to put on a big show.
“I think people are fairly positive about the Olympics,” Bower said. “The gap between rich and poor is pretty much ignored by the [ruling] conservative party.”