Making a racquet over the real Sport of Kings

Making a racquet over the real Sport of Kings

“Real tennis is the sport of kings.” This sentiment still resonates today, even if the main reason for doing so is that most of the rules appear to have been made up for the sole purpose of ensuring King Henry VIII never lost a match — “No your majesty, you won that point as well because…err…you hit the unicorn. Well done.”

Usually when someone introduces a niche sport, they start by describing it as a cross between two that most people are more familiar with. For real tennis, that would be lawn (or as I’ve started calling it, actual) tennis and squash. A more illustrative comparison is possible, however. Imagine, before football kicked off properly, it was played on an irregularly shaped lawn with a few scattered trees growing in the middle, and with a rule that if you kicked the ball through the kitchen window you lost the game because you wouldn’t be getting the ball back. Real tennis is that game.

For the uninitiated, the rules include vagaries such as automatic points if you manage to hit a picture of a unicorn, a small cowbell, or an oblong gallery at one end of the court. And your serves only count if they hit the sloping roof going down one side of the court, past the net. The court does at least have a net in the usual place, which is a reassuring touch for those more familiar with Henman Hill and rain delays. The racquet is small and off-centre, and the balls are far more solid than those of conventional tennis; liable to be relatively painful if you receive an unexpected hit to the face from an angled bounce of one of the slanted walls. The court is enclosed on all four sides, meaning the tactics are vaguely resemblant to squash, if less infuriating, and the various artefacts present add the slightly manic feel of MarioKart, if with considerably more elegance.

The superficially complex rules, which in reality take a few games to learn and probably quite a few more to master, and tactical nature of the game mean that there are a few octogenarians still playing tournaments. Watching an unreturnable forehand fly past you from the hand of someone who spends the majority of their day watching reruns of countdown is presumably one of the more bizarre events in sport (though speaking of which, Oxford share their court with Brookes, so anyone really is welcome).

If, like me, you grew up playing actual tennis on woefully underfunded public courts containing more empty Stella cans than tennis balls, it might take a while before you realise than trying to add topspin to your shots is likely to end up sending the ball flying into the ceiling (a fault) or slumping into the net (also a fault). Once you get the hang of this, and counterintuitive weight shifts on the forehand, you can make deceptively fast progress, and at least bluff proficiency to anyone staring with bewilderment at you through the netting of the gallery. Even if you don’t, a brilliant handicapping system exists to ensure parity with your opponent despite the greatest achievement of your day being that of finding the court (hidden down Merton Street) rather than the grille (the technical term for the unicorn painting). Imagine playing Andy Murray, but you start every game at a 4 point advantage, he isn’t allowed a second serve, and maybe has to stand on one leg. Hey, a win is a win.

Another significant advantage of the sport is that, in another nod to its heritage, many of the courts are in places that, unless you own either a title or half of Cornwall, it’s usually quite difficult to get into. Ignoring Cambridge for obvious reasons, these include the restricted access buildings of Wimbledon, Queens, Hampton Court and Lords. It’s worth playing just to be more welcome over there than Kevin Pietersen. Otherwise, any sport that can reserve the rights to the OUTC initials over upstarts such as actual tennis and triathlon deserves some respect. The Sport Of Kings, it definitely reigns over obscurity, and is worth a go for anyone who feels like punting and croquet are too mainstream, or hasn’t alienated their home friends quite enough with talk of SubFusc and trashing.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year LIVE BLOG

BBC Sports Personality of the Year LIVE BLOG

Tweet @restyrestall to get involved in OxStu Sport’s SPOTY2012 live blog!

23.00 SPOTY Post-script. Robbo has just got in touch to remind me: “you do owe me a pint for the lack of paul scholes nomination”. That’s right, I inaccurately predicted that the veteran Man Utd midfielder would be up for a nomination following his heroic return to football this year. You win some, you lose some. Resty over and out.

22.31 Thanks to everyone who joined in tonight’s live blog – hope you enjoyed the show – have a great Christmas and see you in the new year!

22.30 “There’s a free bar paid for by the BBC,” jests a triumphant Wiggo, who completes a hattrick of personal sporting successes this year. So that’s where our license fee is going! Only joking, it’s been a fantastic night of entertainment from the Beeb, and a wonderful way to celebrate an unforgettable year of sport.

22.27 BRADLEY WIGGINS WINS! Robbo and I accurately predicted it back in Edinburgh in August. No need for this evening’s proceedings then, really… 😀

22.26 London 2012’s poster girl Jess Ennis comes 2nd with Blur’s The Universal accompanying her on stage – so far so good for me and Robbo!

22.25 1.5m phone votes says Sue Barker. 3rd place is Andy Murray. Robbo and I are spot on so far…

Lennox Lewis presenting the award to Andy at the other end of a video screen – hilarity!

22.20 “I’m so flattered and so honoured to be the recipient of this trophy,” says Lord Coe. An emotional speech from ‘Mr London 2012’ who pays tribute to everyone who made the Olympics the success they were.


22.12 It’s the lifetime achievement award now, and the man who won SPOTY for that freekick in 2002 hands it to Lord Coe – the Olympics continue to dominate the night but you can’t deny he deserves it! Coe and his team delivered a games which went without a hitch.

Security at the Crystal Palace athletics ground prevented me from getting his autograph at the Grand Prix back in July 2005, weeks after London won the bid!

22.10 Football journalists Brian Woolnough and Danny Fullbrook remembered in the montage of sporting heroes to have passed away in the last year. The media lounge at Wembley Stadium has been renamed “The Danny Fullbrook Lounge”.

22.07 Bolt the overseas sports personality. Next.

22.02 “This show used to get genuine winners like David Steele” – more wise words from Restall Snr, who is getting ever more frustrated with the Olympics overload. Steele, a cricketer who won the award in 1975, was nicknamed “the bank clerk who went to war“. After bravely battling the Australian bowling might of Thompson and Lillee, notching up four half-centuries in the series. His local butcher apparently gave him a pork chop for every run he scored for the England test team. A true legend.

22.00 The clock strikes ten and Dave Brailsford is named as Britain’s top coach. After winning the last 8 games in a row, I’m told Leyton Orient’s Russell Slade was a close second for the trophy.

21.58 “Sounds like some kind of high-brow Opera” says my Dad to “Strauss and Navratilova” coming on stage to present the coach of the year gong. I’m inclined to agree – bizarre combo from the Beeb.

21.57 “‎’Team GB & Paralympics GB’: not a team. So stupid and yet so predictable. Yawn.” – wise words from a former-Somerville classicist. The Golfers woz robbed.

21.55 Roy Hodgson gets to sit next to Zara Phillips and one away from Tom Daley. Can we swap places Roy?

21.48 Time for Team of the Year. Any other year it would have been the golfers for their Ryder Cup exploits (see below) but it’s Team GB, #OurGreatestTeam, and yet another chance for Auntie Beeb to show us a montage of their coverage of London 2012. That wasn’t cynicism – our medal winning Olympic and Paralympic athletes crafted an unforgettable summer for these Isles. And who better than Oxford’s very own Sir Roger Bannister, fresh from meeting Tom Ough in June, to present the award.

Let’s also not forget Wigan Athletic in this category – the Beeb clearly haven’t with a cheeky pan over to Roberto Martinez. Classic!

Top tweet: @chrisdoliver Mum votes for Andy Murray once, I vote for #Wiggo twice#SPOTY2012 #ComeOnWiggo

@restyrestall: sorry, I’m on your Mum’s side #ComeOnANDY

21.44 Jim and Sue Horton presented with the Unsung Heroes award – “with a great team around you it’s amazing what you will achieve”

21.40 Was on a train to my to my Aunt’s 60th birthday party when the sporting world stood still on March 17 – it’s incredible that Fabrice Muamba is up on stage presenting an award nine months on tonight with the medical team which saved his life.

21.38 @darrenhunt has tweeted: “Football has lowered the tone on #SPOTY2012” – perhaps, but anyone beating Barcelona last season was like another sprinter snatching Bolt’s 100m crown!

 21.34 Would love Roberto Di Matteo to get coach of the year, masterminded a first Champions League victory for Chelsea and an FA Cup to boot, before being sacked a few weeks back. But the smart money’s on Team Sky and Team GB cycling’s Dave Brailsford.

20.30 Get calling – the lines are all open and the numbers are backed by that epic Underworld track from the opening ceremony. I’ve just got goosebumps.

21.27 The “Weirwolf” is welcomed with a light-show which wouldn’t look out of place in a Dr Who episode, but it’s an incredibly well deserved entrance. His four golds were the undisputed highlight in the most successful Paralympics Team GB has ever had and as Clare Balding rightly said – put the games on a parallel with the Olympics.

21.25 I also can’t recall any mention of Roy Hodgson and England’s Euro 2012 campaign, but equally amidst

21.20 Team GB finished fourth on the track & field medals table with 4 golds – their best since 1964 – but head coach Charles van Commenee stepped down in September after failing to meet his target of 8 medals. Promising for Rio 2016 with such a taste for success.

21.13 Looking back on Super Saturday now, and a day which will forever go down in British history. Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford all struck gold in an electric Olympic Stadium. The handful who chose to watch the evening’s proceedings at The Bullfinch in Riverhead helped the pub come alive during my shift.

21.11 Sergio Aguero tweets a picture of ExCel tonight:

21.09 “Why is Didier Drogba there?” says my bemused Dad, before I remind him that even if the footy isn’t top billing tonight, the Ivory Coast striker’s goal did win Chelsea their first Champions League crown back in May.

21.04 Sadly not a Rocky-esque montage for Team GB’s first female Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams but they’re more than making up for it by introducing the combat sport stars one by one onto the stage. Adams recently topped the IoS Pink List which recognises influential LGBT figures – ahead of tonight’s presenter Clare Balding.

20.59 @Tukka says: “If you don’t “get golf” after this montage, there’s no hope for you.#spoty2012” and he’s not far wrong – I wasn’t much of a golf fan until Europe completed “mission impossible” with an astonishing comeback at the Ryder Cup. Ian Poulter led the way as Europe snatched 8 and a half points on the final day in Medinah. Jose Maria Olazabal’s heroic golfers have to be the team of the year – I’ll eat my hat if it’s Man City.

20.56 Aside from a brief glimpse of Andrew Strauss, the England cricket team has also been forgotten tonight. While it’s been a mixed year for the test team following back-to-back Ashes glories with defeats to Pakistan and South Africa, Alastair Cook’s team are on the brink of an historic series victory in India. The new England captain recorded his 23rd test century last week.

20.53 The briefest of mentions to Peter Wilson who shot to fame in the clay pigeon event at London 2012 – one of the “forgotten champions” of the Olympics.

20.47 My mate Robbo has correctly predicted the last few SPOTY winners, including Cavendish last year. During the Edinburgh Fringe we discussed over a whisky the candidates for this year – scrawled on the back of a beer mat I have Wiggins, Ennis, Murray as the 1-2-3.

20.43 Yep, that’s a four second delay between Sue Barker and the Sir Chris Hoy videolink. Bringing back memories of the Mike Bassett videolink – footy fans will know what I’m talking about.

Top tweet: @PeterPRandRadio Is it me, or is #SPOTY2012 treating non-Olympic or non-Paralympic sports such as rugby, football and horse racing like ad breaks?#SPOTY

@restyrestall it’s nice to see some other sports take centre stage this year

20.39 @GuyFoxLondon asks the question on everyone’s lips this evening: What happens if there is a tie for Sports Personality of the Year? Does it get decided by degree of difficulty? #SPOTY2012

Top tweet: @andrewcembling What an incredibly moving story. Martine Wright a deserved winner of the Helen Rollason award 2012. The embodiment of courage#SPOTY2012

20.30 Martine Wright wins the Helen Rollason award for “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity” – what an incredible story. Wright competed at the Paralympics in the sitting volleyball having lost both of her legs in the 7/7 bombings, the day after London won the games. She dedicates her award to PC Elizabeth Kenworthy who saved her life, and the 52 who were tragically killed in the attacks.

20.27 Comedian Lee Nelson attempts to bring British rowing back down to earth with a bump (punbelievable tekkers there…) by tweeting: “We only won the rowing coz we’ve got more posh people than any other country #spoty2012“. But at least he loves the Rad Cam…

20.23 Rowing is now in the limelight, and it’s a year Katherine Grainger (a modern day Robert the Bruce according to Clare Balding) will never forget. It’s also been a year of highs and lows for Oxford’s rowers – Trinity’s Constantine Louloudis picked up a bronze stroking the Men’s 8 but earlier in the year Trenton Oldfield hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – if the BBC did a “Villain of the Year” surely he’d be a contender?

20.19 Live via videolink, Murray and Sue Barker joke about his Wimbledon speech which left the nation in more tears than when Peter Colt won it in the 2003 film version…

20.18 I’m in agreement with @ma77anderson – this has been the toughest one to call for years. #comeoneandy anyone?

Top tweet: @ma77anderson Can’t decide which #spoty2012 short lister to vote for – just let them all have one each eh? #fb

20.16 “I’m a Murray fan” says my brother Will, but the Restall family favourite doesn’t appear to be the nation’s favourite. Wiggo still the bookies’ best bet for the crown tonight.

20.13 Balding banters with the Brownlee brothers – couldn’t resist a bit of alliteration. World Champion Jonathan memorably battled back to take the bronze in the Olympic triathlon after a time penalty as older brother Alistair took gold.

20.09 The ExCel is doing the Poznan as Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany celebrate Man City’s Premier League title on stage with Gary Lineker. Don’t get me wrong – City’s title win on the last day of the 2011/12 season was incredible, but no way near as inspirational as the Paralympic triumphs we’ve just relived.

20.06 One of London 2012’s poster boys Tom Daley is up on stage to present the Young Sports Personality of the Year award – an award the diver has won three times. Daley hands this year’s trophy to Josef Craig, a 15-year-old swimmer who took gold in the 400m freestyle at the Paralympics.

20.00 Clare Balding notes that Ellie Simmonds is just 18 but has already lived an incredibly full sporting life. Simmonds secured a second double-gold haul two swimming at the Paralympics and has already won the Young Sports Personality of the Year gong after winning two gold medals aged just 13 in Beijing.

19.58 Right. Back from the kitchen armed with a chicken pie – this is going to be a long night.

Top tweet: @tara_mulholland Right, that’s it, I’m gonna say it – I fancy Bradley Wiggins rotten, and none of you can stop me #SPOTY2012

19.50 Bizarre mention of the Cardiff v Liverpool League Cup final – I suppose they have to get football in somewhere. If “Sporting Events in 2012” were a category on BBC’s quiz show Pointless, I’d guarantee you now that Alexander Armstrong would be listing that game as a “pointless” answer. Even I’d forgotten it and I live and breathe football…

19.46 First British winner of the Tour de France and Olympic time trial king Bradley Wiggins very gracious onstage with Sue Barker praising the team behind his triumphs – you could be mistaken for thinking it was the Brit Awards as Wiggo looks more Paul Weller than Olympian!

19.43 Welcome! As you can imagine, the night is going to be one massive homage to London’s hugely-successful Olympic games. We’ve already had last year’s winner Mark Cavendish return his award – unfortunately the cyclist was unsuccessful in his attempt to win gold in the men’s cycling road race.

Join OxStu Sport as we look back on a phenomenal year of sport with the BBC’s annual awards ceremony. This year’s gong is broadcast live from London’s ExCel centre which hosted Boxing, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Fencing, Judo, Wrestling and Weight Lifting at London 2012. Nicola Adams and Anthony Joshua were among the Team GB gold medal winners at the venue.

Going for gold (in controversy)

Going for gold (in controversy)

Korean squatters, dirty judges and racism -and this is not the plot to some new ITV drama called EDL Housing Court. It is, instead, the Games of the XXX Olympiad. What better way to spend our brief respite from academia -recovering from monstrous fact-cramming sessions and post-exam inebriation – than to stay glued to our screens with some light nationalistic fervour!

London 2012 has so far been sensational, with many outstanding GB triumphs over former territories and imperial rivals, but we don’t give enough attention to the part that really makes the games interesting – the controversy. Two Olympians were already disqualified for some racist tweets. With accusations of doping and lots of bad sportsmanship we are going to have a very eventful summer.

The Chinese swimming prodigy and double gold medallist Ye Shiwen destroyed all opposition and broke the world record in the women’s 400m individual medley.  Despite being small in frame and sixteen years old she beat her male counterpart in the men’s final. And despite passing every single drugs test, some seemed to take liberties to brand her a cheat. US coach John Leonard is one of those guilty of backhandedness. He described her performance as “impossible” and “unbelievable” – clearly trying to tarnish this amazing achievement.

Yet, why is it that when the US swimmers such as Phelps continue to break world records no-one bats an eyelid? Surely the US has had many more high-profile doping scandals? I think the policy of innocent until proven guilty has worked pretty well thus far, and many in the swimming community such as multiple gold medallist Ian Thorpe agree.

We can forgive the guy who made the erroneous copy and paste job on the South Korean flag. It’s not a very difficult assumption to make, considering the nation in question calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic and is coincidentally one of the most authoritarian and secretive states in the world; but that’s all the slander I’m willing to giving those guys. After all, the DPRK do produce many extraordinary athletes (and I don’t want to be abducted to direct Pulgasari II: Kim Jong-Un vs the Avengers). Their estranged brothers below the 38th parallel have historically caused slightly more controversy in the Olympics.

ROK fencer Shim A Lam delayed the final for the women’s individual epee event for more than an hour by staging a sit in at the ExCel arena. The reigning German gold-medallist Britta Heidemann beat her in the semi-final due to an oddly upward counting timer. Fencing seems to be a very emotional sport. After each point the fencers have overdone celebrations on par with those for not failing Prelims. She was well within her rights to appeal, but squatting on the runway is slightly overdoing it. Credit where it is due, we should respect Ms Shim for sticking to her guns, not accepting defeat and claiming the bronze medal. Her actions are reminiscent of the Korean boxer Byun Jung Il – no relation to the late Dear Leader – who staged a similar protest after losing a boxing final against Bulgarian boxer Aleksandar Hristov during the 1988 Olympic Games. On that occasion, the officials and the audience just left him in the boxing ring alone and in the dark.

Currently boxing is also under the spotlight after Japanese bantamweight boxer Satoshi Shimizu was robbed of victory by some criminal judging and refereeing. He was down 7 points going in the third round against the Azerbaijani favourite Magomed Abdulhamidov. In the third round Shimizu brought the fight to his opponent, unleashing a ferocious volley of punches to knock him down a total of six times.

The referee in question decided to continue letting the favourite contender play on without issuing warnings until the penultimate knockdown, and never initiated the countdown. Amateur Boxing rules at the Games dictate that if three warnings are obtained then the offender is disqualified. The judges then ruled that Abdulhamidov had won by a huge margin, as though they had been oblivious to the bruised, wobbling, unbalanced frame of the Azerbaijani. The decision was met with boos from the crowd. The Japanese decided to contest the ruling with AIBA, the amateur boxing governing body, and put forward the five hundred pounds required for an appeal. AIBA officially reversed the decision and are scrutinising the shady officials, thus allowing Satoshi Shimizu his chance to compete for the gold medal once more.

This reeks of the corruption seen in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, where Roy Jones Jnr almost killed every opponent with an impressive display of skill and strength. Jones had lost the final with the judges ruling 3-2 against him in favour of the Korean Park Si-Hun. It turned out that Korean officials had bribed the judges by wining and dining them. The decision was never reversed and the 3 judges were banned from the sport, leaving a nasty stain on the Seoul Olympics and Olympic boxing. This led them to change the scoring system since – but it is evident that this system can be corrupted too.

The new round robin format of the badminton unleashed on London 2012 has partially contributed to one of the greatest controversies in Olympic history. From the women’s badminton doubles it is evident that players can exploit the system to greatly to their advantage, possibly with some direction from their coach. Throwing a match can lead to a much easier draw in the elimination rounds. On the other side of controversy to Miss Ye, the top seeded PRC badminton duo tried to throw the match so that they would not meet their countrywomen on the court during until the final. This led to a huge chain reaction of teams also trying to evade the Chinese in the quarter-finals. In a disgusting display of bad sportswomanship, the Chinese pairing continued to serve faults and hit shuttlecocks wide.

The opposing team cottoned on to what was going on and followed suit. This meant both teams competed to be the worst – resulting in a farcical game with the longest rally lasting four strokes. In the end the PRC team was better at being substandard, leaving the Korean team as the sore winners. The following match also copied the same format as the first – devolving into an apraxic display of badminton. All four teams have since been disqualified from the event.  The audience definitely did not get their money’s worth of badminton. With tickets at an astronomical price and very hard to come by it is insulting to the public, particularly to those who spectated.

The gauntlet has now been set down, with the Koreans leading for gold followed closely by the Chinese in silver and the US team trailing with the bronze. It’s still a tight race at the front with all teams trying to lose, but I reckon there are still some cracking scandals to come. GB is at the back with the wooden spoon. It is a race that Britain can be proud of losing – there is no prize and there is not even a cake.

Enjoy the rest of the Olympic Games.

PHOTO/Nagarjun Kandukuru

Sporting the Olympic look this summer

Sporting the Olympic look this summer[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="223"] Olympic logo 2012[/caption]

The Olympics. With the opening ceremony less than 36 hours away, all eyes are turned to the London stadium and the international athletes, who over the next few weeks will push themselves to breaking point in the hope of taking home the ultimate prize – a gold medal.

Whilst many of us were unlucky enough to fail to get tickets, we can still follow the events on TV and radio, and in true student style show our support of the athletes by engaging in the odd drinking game during popular events. However, we’ve also been encouraged to show our support of team GB by sporting *yeah I did* one of the latest summer trends; ‘sports luxe’. When McCartney’s collection, in collaboration with Adidas, was unveiled earlier this year, everyone was impressed to see her modern style moulded into smart sportswear and the manipulation of the Union Flag into a stylish pattern across male and female kit. More recently, Karl Lagerfeld has released his Olympic inspired collection in a pop-up shop in Selfridges, continuing to hail the importance of this momentous event through clothing and accessories.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="496"] Stella McCartney Team GB kit[/caption]


However, I have to say I am not a fan of the high-street take on ‘sports-luxe’. After magazines such as Vogue and Elle left us all wondering who on earth (Mrs Beckham aside) can wear neon, 6 inch stiletto trainers without dying from either a broken spine or embarrassment, we were guided by other magazines towards the high-street collections from shops such as New Look, Topshop and Primark. Where classy sports pieces such as McCartney’s fitted sweatpants and streamlined running vests morphed into ill-fitting cropped hoodies, mesh vests and luminous trainers is unknown, but thankfully the useless summer weather has forced these pieces back into storerooms and warehouses and no-one fancies going for a jog in the rain in July. Frankly – we left Mr Motivator back in the 1990s, and that’s where his wardrobe should stay.


[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="193"] Mr Motivator[/caption]

However, if you feel like sporting a few patriotic items over the coming weeks in support of our hopeful medallists, I’d recommend staying away from anything you would chose to wear to a bop, and opting for something a little classier. After the anti-chav phenomenon of the early 2000’s, where we all mocked townies for wearing sports wear despite their evident lack of healthy eating and exercise, it seems a bit hypocritical that we then expect it to be deemed acceptable for us to wear sports wear to work, or sweats to a cocktail bar. If you are actually in to sports, it is worth investing in some of the original McCartney and Adidas kit, which is reasonably priced and will actually bear some resemblance to the kit being worn at events around the country.  My personal favourites include the Women’s Pictogram leggings, and zip up hoodies, which are comfy and stylish. Futhermore, they come without the embarrassment of drawing everyone’s attention to yourself whilst you’re gasping away on the cross trainer, face as luminous as your Primark shorts.

Playing Games with our future

Playing Games with our future

The 2012 Olympics are not simply a sporting event, but a festival of repression and corporate propaganda.
Let’s try and undo the myth that sport is apolitical, and least of all, the Olympics. From the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa to the Olympic massacre in Mexico to the human rights debate at the last Olympic Games, the history of the event is littered with political turmoil and repression. Indeed, the repressive policing measures approved for the Los Angeles games are arguably a leading factor in the climate that created the 1992 Rodney King riots. If only it were true that the Games could be a simple sporting competition, an exhibition of athletic prowess and friendly competition. That is a mere fiction, though, and the reality is that the background to London 2012 is as political as it ever will be; and to oppose and reject the Games is not simply anti-sport. It’s common sense. Here is a distilled list of reasons why the Games are a sham; a propaganda offensive aimed at shoring up an unpopular system and attacking ordinary people in the process.
For an Olympics that has soared over its budget, it seems very surprising that the money cannot be found to provide decent recompense to those who would labour to make it a success. Yet, transport workers, who are having to cope with a hugely overcrowded city, maintaining a network that will be overstretched in spite of transport upgrades, are being refused remuneration for the extreme circumstances, and transport bosses continue to flip-flop over pay and conditions, whilst accusing the workers of behaving counterproductively! In addition, professional musicians are expected to perform free of charge at the Olympics. Meanwhile, the scheme of Olympic volunteering has been hyped up as a way for people to ‘give back’- a force of seventy thousand ‘Games Markers’ will line the streets for London 2012. National unity and people harmlessly helping, right? The reality is, one million young people are unemployed. We live in a society where Jubilee stewards were expected not only to work for free but to sleep under Waterloo Bridge. Living costs are rising, in London more so than most. People do not need ‘volunteering’ opportunities, they need well-paying jobs, and for a world sporting event soaked in money to expect to recruit an army of slave labour from artists and performers to escorts and tourist-helpers, is frankly disgusting. What it also does is normalise the free labour culture we have; where graduates and the jobless alike are expected to work for free, if not ordered to, and anyone hoping to go into a professional job should expect to undergo a raft of unpaid internships beforehand.
As early as 2006, police were given special powers for the Olympics, that potentially extended to invading homes and destroying protest material. A huge ‘Brand Exclusion Zone’, banning advertising but also infringing upon personal choices and to be heavily policed, surrounds the Olympic area, as does a security fence reminiscent of separation barriers such as the Israeli apartheid wall or Berlin Wall. Six have been arrested for peaceful protest against the Olympic takeover of Leyton Marsh, whilst anti-Olympics tweeters had their accounts suspended after complaints from Games organisers. In short, police powers are being maximised, and the police have a track record of expanding powers beyond the purposes they were nominally intended for; the Terrorism Act for instance. The example of how extreme policing continued for a decade after the Los Angeles Olympics sets a precedent for this. It is worse, though, than the criminalisation of protest; for Fortress Olympia is not merely policed, but militarised. In the face of widespread local opposition and ignoring the local population, the Ministry of Defence have forged ahead with plans for Surface to Air Missile (SAM) sites on six residential locations around the Olympic area. This is despite prevailing evidence that the Rapier missile system is prone to failure, ineffective in poor weather (of which there have been no shortage recently) and that if an airborne attack was to penetrate the already extensive ring of steel around London, the debris cloud from a missile discharge in an urban area would be horrifically dangerous. This is an addition to police sniper units, aerial drones, warships and gunboats, and an estimated 12,000 police, 13,500 military personnel (4000 more than deployed in Afghanistan!), 500 FBI agents in 1000 US military personnel and 20,000 security guards being deployed. It is not a phenomenon limited to the Olympics, but part of a growing trend of military urbanism that will not end with the Olympic handover ceremony.
On passing through Waterloo Station, I observed the entire thoroughfare bedecked with EDF propaganda sponsoring the Olympics. If sport is simply about sport and nothing more, then why are advertisements for EDF, Coca-Cola, and every other ‘official’ Games product swamping London? The dictatorship of consumerism linked to the Games is naked, blatant, and obvious. And what of access to the Games? Companies that have acquired considerable numbers of tickets are selling them on starting at £595- a price no working-class person in Britain can afford. Meanwhile newborn babies are expected to hold full-price tickets – nothing short of an attack on new mothers. Notwithstanding the debacle in initial ticket allocation, a quick glance at the timetable shows us that the vast majority of tickets are at least £95 and upwards- pricing ensures that very few ordinary people will find it possible to even access the Games we are supposed to be venerating. Moreover, VIP lanes line the streets of London for the fast transit of Games officials (30% of the London road network, and in spite of our supposedly revamped transport system- don’t mention the tube line flooding or passengers being escorted through tube tunnels after breakdowns on several occasions.) So, we are expected to put up with decreased road capacity in a city that is already wracked with constant traffic jams (and I doubt the increased petrol output resulting from this will be any good for the environment either.) Worse, the VIP lanes don’t merely exclude regular private vehicles, but public transport and emergency vehicles in non-emergency situations. Now, there are plenty of reasons an ambulance, even in a non-emergency context, would need fast movement- logistical placement in preparation of possible casualties, for instance, or the transporting of patients whose conditions do not pose immediate danger but nor is it especially helpful for them to be stuck in traffic for two hours. The Games are an explosion of corporate propaganda that locks out and marginalises the common person. Meanwhile, the Olympic village has been sold to the Qatari ruling family’s property firm, with a loss to the taxpayer of £275 million, or as Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt puts it, “a fantastic deal that will give taxpayers a great return and shows how we are securing a legacy from London’s Games.”

Sponsors include BP, Dow Chemicals and Rio Tinto- a kick in the teeth to the environment, given that these three controversial companies are responsible for an untold amount of irresponsible pollution; including the Tar Sands, aka ‘the greatest environmental crime in history.’ In a horrible twist of irony, the Paralympics are sponsored by Atos Healthcare- the firm whose draconian ‘work capability’ tests make life a living hell on a daily basis for ordinary disabled people- especially the most vulnerable.
But the Olympics are going to leave a legacy that will help Londoners in the long term, right? Wrong. Contaminated land (lead and asbestos) is being disturbed to build a new and unnecessary Olympic venue on Leyton Marsh, a green area of common land prized by locals. Protesting on the site has been banned. Meanwhile, several years ago, the Clays Lane housing cooperative, which held a number of poor people together in good-quality housing and a strong community, was razed to make way for the Olympics, the homeowners dispersed across London, their community wiped out. Again, this is part of a wider process of gentrification across East London, as gated communities emerge and rents are driven up, forcing out the poorest, in conjunction with the state-sponsored exodus of poorer families from London, which includes Londoners being evacuated to Yorkshire! A host of small businesses have been kicked out to make way for the Olympic Park, some of whom have not recovered, whilst future ‘regeneration plans’ endanger another housing estate. There is very little guarantee, despite the whitewash around it, that much, if any, of the Olympic Village accommodation will become affordable housing- and if there is, it will be too little and too late. And what, among other things, have the evictions and regeneration been for? “…some luxury yachts along the riverfront…Sixty palm trees are being shipped in. We’re going to have this beach club that turns into a nightclub.”

It is an opening of the way to the sale of yet more public space; the further privatisation of our common property of streets. We will be left with a financial black hole, jobs that rapidly evaporate (not that there were many real jobs in the first place) a militarised city, and repressive legislation, and absolutely no guarantee of decent affordable housing. As far as transport improvements go- could that not have been accomplished without the Games? What’s to celebrate?

Recently, the five Olympic rings were installed at Tower Bridge. The heavy steel pieces cost £260,000 to build and a further £53,000 to install. In an era where London boroughs are losing up to 70% of their youth centres, along with libraries, care homes, housing benefit, support for the poorest, school buildings, and more, there is no need to explain the myriad things which this money might have otherwise been spent on. The Olympics were originally estimated to have a price tag of £2.4bn. It’s common knowledge that they’ve overspent, but by how much? The military and police operation comes to £1bn. The total costs of the Games, including the peripheral, come to a massive £24 billion – ten times the original estimate. The net loss, taking tourism revenue into account, is expected to be around £3.5billion. When everyone from the sick and disabled to the unemployed (especially young people, women and ethnic minorities according to a variety of figures) as well as nurses and doctors, teachers, firemen and women, public sector workers as a whole- and indeed workers as a whole- are undergoing the effects of austerity, the spending of astronomical sums on what is essentially a large white elephant is unconscionable. What we are being told is that we cannot afford a progressive pension scheme, dignified unemployment and sickness benefits, stable job creation, environmental sustainability, primary, secondary, further and higher education, the health service, the youth service, elderly care, et cetera, and yet we can afford a month-long corporate bonanza that is not in the slightest inclusive or indicative of a long-term positive legacy? The Olympics lays bare the fact that we are not all in it together, and that austerity is only necessary when its targets are those the Coalition Government have no regard for wellbeing.
The legacy of the Olympics is nothing but further repression, poverty, social exclusion and social division. In Ancient Rome, the Emperor Nero would provide ‘bread and circuses’ to the people in order to dissuade them from dissenting, including public games. The Olympics is bread and circuses on a global scale, a true Weapon of Mass Distraction. It is interesting to note that national teams were only imposed on the Games in 1908, by those countries desperately seeking patriotism and unquestioning support from their populace, in a time of social unrest and the preceding years to the First World War, when nation-based power blocs were developing. The spirit of the games remains the same; corrupted by its sponsors away from co-operative sporting, and into an extravaganza that forces us to come together in national unity, and ignore the fact that it is our ‘countrymen’, our ‘compatriots’ that are occupying government and business and in the process of impoverishing us. (Whilst, of course, we are busy buying our Official Olympic water and breathing our London 2012™ oxygen.) What is worse is that the co-operative, apolitical spirit behind the original Olympics persists in spite of the Orwellian poison attached to it, forcing us to accept that it still exists in spite of all that’s been attached to it.

To those that complain that protesting the Olympics is an attack on sport itself; remember that the true Olympic message of equal, friendly sporting competition has already been subverted and destroyed, and in London this year at least, is irrevocable.

Image credit to: Counter Olympics Network

Major changes made to Boat Race

The Women’s Boat Race will move to the same day and be given parity with the men’s competition from 2015 after landmark changes were announced to the competition on Wednesday.

The historic step, which organisers hope will breathe new life into the 157-year old event, will see the female Oxford-Cambridge clash move forward a week to within an hour of the men’s race where it will follow the same Tideway course down the Thames and be televised live on BBC TV.

Traditionally the Women’s Boat Race is held at Henley a week or two before the world-famous Boat Race, which will soon become known as The Boat Races. Henley will continue to host the lightweight men’s and women’s divisions, as well as the women’s reserve boats, Osiris and Blondie.

Natalie Redgrave, a member of last years victorious Blues crew and daughter of Olympic legend Sir Steve, said: “It’s a great deal and everyone’s really pleased. But the Boat Club’s got a long way to go to close standards between the two clubs.

“It’ll be a bit strange with the Blues and reserve crews not racing on the same day but it’ll make us push harder to get in the Blue boat and get to row on the Tideway. However, we’ll be putting lots of effort into making sure the Henley event is still a big day.”

The difference in dates between the women’s first and reserve boat races has caused concern with some rowers because the final crews are usually chosen just weeks before the event and rowers for both follow a similar training schedule, which will have to change. Currently the men’s Blue Boat and reserve Isis crew race on the same day over the same Putney to Mortlake [Tideway] course on the Thames.

David Searle from Boat Race Company Ltd said: “It is true that the fact that the women’s UWBC’s will have to adapt their crews’ training to accommodate the 4.25 miles of the Championship Course and the 2,000 metres at Henley. They have a couple of years to work out how to do that: crew selection may have to be made earlier than may have been the case in the past, the second crew will have to switch their training to sharpen up for the shorter distance at Henley. These are not insurmountable problems and they have two years in which to consider them.”

Women have competed on the Tideway course since 1981 as coxes but never with the oar in hand. Current arrangements will remain in place for the next three races and the changes will begin from 2015.

The announcement came as BNY Mellon were revealed as the new sponsors of the Boat Race from May, replacing Xchanging, who have been title sponsor since 2005. Newton, a BNY Mellon company, will continue to sponsor the Women’s Boat Club under a new five year agreement. Newton’s CEO Helena Morrissey is known for her views on boardroom gender equality.

Sir Matthew Pinsent, a former President of Oxford University Boat Club, was present at the press conference unveiling and said: “I rowed the race 20 years ago and it’s great to see the Race, the crews and the spectacle go from strength to strength. I know that it’s a stated goal for BNY Mellon and Newton to bring the women’s race to London, which is a fantastic development and challenge for both University Women’s Boat Clubs. They will be a worthy part of the London race and a big addition to the event.”

Other recently created Varsity boat races, in Newcastle, Manchester and Scotland, already give parity to women’s crews.

Somerville College rower Sarah Billingsley said: “Women train as hard as men and it’s only fair they should be represented on par with them. They row very differently and may not be as fast but it’s still as entertaining to watch. This move is good for women as it shows they’re not inferior to men, especially in an Olympic year.”

Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor Prof Andrew Hamilton also hailed the plans: “The enormous dedication shown by our student crews in the face of demanding academic programmes is inspiring and brings a real sense of collective pride to our university. We are delighted to welcome BNY Mellon to the Varsity family, especially as it features the continued sponsorship of the Women’s race by Newton and the very exciting move to the Tideway for the women in future years. Oxford and Cambridge strive to be world class in all that we undertake, mixing heritage with cutting edge innovation.”

This year’s men’s Boat Race will take place on 7th April while The Henley Boat Races are on 25th March.