Like a good many of you, I imagine, I was worried that hosting the 2012 Olympic Games in London might send out the wrong sort of message, especially to our young people. The games have traditionally been an appallingly elitist and singularly competitive tournament of a somewhat exclusive nature. Certain people, unfairly selected on the shallow basis of their physical prowess, run, jump and throw things and the people who do best are rewarded while those who do poorly are labelled failures. This is regrettably true even of the more recent Paralympic Games, where the noble aspiration of making crippled people feel valued is undermined by the process of forcing them to compete against one another and awarding the ‘best’ competitors medals (with their distasteful military connotations).
But things are changing, thankfully. It is not just that for the first time the Paralympic Games now has equal billing to the Olympic Games (the lessons of positive discrimination suggest it should really have top billing, of course). The signs are that the games in London may at last be a properly commun-ity-based, consensual and democratic affair.
There was a huge advertisement in the Sunday Times last weekend from the various quangos set up to run the Olympics, under the meaningful and powerful headline ‘Together’. The photograph at the top of the ad showed some British schoolchildren running across a playground, with great determination. Importantly, none of the children was what we might call ‘white’, which is good. I think we’ve seen and heard quite enough of white children, haven’t we? The only justification for having white children in the photograph would have been to have them apologising to the black children for thousands of years of slavery and cultural and military imperialism. Perhaps, the photographer was telling us, by omission, that the horrible white children had typically refused to apologise.
Anyway, the non-white youngsters pictured seemed to be engaged in a race of some kind but, commendably, there was no suggestion that any one of them was going to win: it was plainly the taking part that counted. The little African girl was neck and neck with the little Iranian or Turkish boy; a Chinese girl and a Jamaican girl followed a short distance behind them — but only because they’d exercised their right, as is only fair, to begin the race a moment or two after the others had started. It is an authoritarian lunacy to suggest that everyone should begin a race at the same time. There are vitally important cultural factors to bear in mind; the adherents of some faiths find it invidious even to stand alongside the adherents of other faiths, for example, and should not be required to do so, in case they start punching one another. Also, some races do not have a Eurocentric, strictly linear concept of time; they navigate by the shifting shadow of the sun and the subtly nuanced elision of the seasons. The sharp crack of the starting pistol is an anathema to them, as it should be to us.
But it was the text of the advertisement that caught my eye: it was a recruitment ad. Now, obviously, previous Olympic Games have provided employment for local people — someone with a long tape measure to sort out who has won the discus, anyone with a decent watch to oversee the 100-metre sprint, burly stewards, cheerful popcorn sellers, people with little plastic flasks for all those urine samples. And indeed a few horny-handed souls to knock up the stadia, build the roads, etc. Lawyers to sue the organising authorities when the work falls behind schedule and so on. But these were not the jobs on offer. Instead, top of the bill, came Head of Diversity and Inclusion. And following that, Head of Equality and Diversity. Hopefully there will be a consensual working relationship between the two successful candidates for these posts as we wouldn’t want five years of arguments over what was the more important, equality or inclusion. Or maybe later they’ll advertise for an overall Head of Diversity, Diversity, Inclusion and Equality, to sort out any potential rows. There were some more posts on offer, too. Equality and Inclusion Manager (Impact and Engagement) as well as Equality and Inclusion Manager (Audit and Support). If you didn’t feel quite up to being in charge of Equality and Inclusion — which is, after all, your right — you could be Deputy Head of Equality and Inclusion or even the Equality and Inclusion Monitoring and Research Manager. ‘Competitive’ salaries are advertised for all of these jobs, so one can assume that the total amount on offer is somewhere in the region of half a million quid. There are presumably many, many more posts on offer dealing with Equality, Inclusion and Diversity — otherwise the people who are the heads of these departments won’t have anybody to be the head of. Unless this is an even more progressive enterprise than I had at first imagined and everybody gets to be called a Head or a Manager, even if they just make the tea, to make them feel better about themselves in a very real sense.
The blurb for the jobs says that a key priority for the 2012 Olympics is ‘to use the momentum provided by the Games and the significant investment in the Lower Lea Valley as a vehicle for reducing historic and long-standing inequalities’. Note: both historic and long-standing. But maybe when they’ve sorted out the Lower Lea Valley and made everybody living there diverse, inclusive and equal, they might turn their attentions to the events of the Olympics and impose the same equality, diversity and inclusiveness on, say the decathlon. Or indeed the Upper Lea Valley, which has been suffering inequality for all too long, in my opinion.
There will be some — reactionaries, I suppose you’d call them — who would argue that the ad and indeed the jobs advertised are yet more evidence of the sort of the vapid, deluded, meaningless but fashionable drivel which is typical of Britain today and which makes one seethe with a burning yet inchoate rage and, in the end, crouch down at the top of the high street with a loaded Kalashnikov and a bunch of hand grenades. And a colossal waste of money, too. But we should be generous. Averse to the ideals of the New Olympics/New Britain though they may be, these people are nonetheless paying for most the ads and indeed the salaries of those to be employed. That, after all, is what is meant by ‘inclusive’.