Thursday, 7 August 2008

The London Olympics

As the Olympics get under way in Beijing (or Pekin, as some of us still think of it), one’s mind naturally turns to the London Olympics.

Not the 2012 Games, obviously. The prospect of that nonsense is so horrible that all one do is avert one’s eyes and whistle loudly.

Nor even the Austerity Olympics of 1948.

No, I was thinking of the 1988 Games. Not that London actually staged the event. Nor indeed did we even bid for them. But we did think about it.

In 1979 the GLC, then under the control of the Conservative administration led by Horace Cutler, put out a consultative document in an attempt to spark a debate over whether it was worth going for the Games.

Two options were put forward. The first was the budget version, with a refurbishment of Wembley Stadium, the erection of a temporary athletes’ village and the utilization of existing venues for the minor sports. The second was a more ambitious scheme with a new stadium and permanent village to be built in Docklands.

The costs, including in both cases a major investment in the traffic infrastructure, were £545 million for the cheap option and £1.2 billion for the up-market version.

Obviously those figures don’t mean much nearly thirty years on. So I went to the Bank of England inflation calculator, and it turns out that the more expensive scheme would cost a shade under £4.5 billion at today’s prices.

That’s less than half the current estimate for the 2012 Games. Maybe I’m being naïve, or maybe they were being naïve in 1979, but what the hell’s happened to the Olympics that it’s so bloated?

Mind you, the one thing they were at least honest about back then: they admitted that the Games would make a loss, estimated at being around £220 million. We’ll be lucky to get away with that in 2012.

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