Andrew Gilligan

The true cost of the Olympics

London is being forced to lay on five-star luxury for the scores of grandees who run the Games. We reveal the documents the Olympic organisers did not want you to read

The true cost of the Olympics
Text settings

There was something rather un-British about all that grovelling to Fifa last week. That, at least, appears to be the new national consensus after even the combined charms of Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham failed to land England the World Cup. We are not, we now realise, the kind of people who prostrate themselves to fat foreign sports bureaucrats. The mother of parliaments will never yield its cherished prerogatives to the rococo whims of some grubby Swiss tax-dodgers. Oh, wait a minute...

Entirely without the help of Mr Julian Assange, The Spectator today publishes an international sporting equivalent of the WikiLeaks cables. Our document cache is just as long, just as embarrassing to Britain, and just as closely held as the collected thoughts of the American diplomatic corps: it is the complete, contractually binding and previously confidential set of demands made by the 115-member International Olympic Committee (IOC) on poor old London for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Like the WikiLeak, the Olympics leak is by turns creepy and amusing. And it is just as revealing in its detail. We already knew, for instance, about the politburo nature of the IOC. What we did not know is that London is, according to these contracts, required to provide the IOC and the ‘Olympic Family’ (including the Committee members, staff and officials) with 40,000 hotel-room bookings for the entire duration of the Games. This includes 1,800 four- and five-star hotel rooms for the IOC elite. Six Park Lane hotels have been booked out for the duration of the Games, including the Dorchester, the Grosvenor and the Hilton.

The 40,000-room booking does not, of course, include accommodation for the competitors themselves — they are having an Olympic Village built for them at a cost to taxpayer of £325 million. Nor is any accommodation being reserved for spectators. On the evidence of the documents, visitors to the Games will probably find that any hotel within a 50-mile radius of London is already fully booked by the third assistant director of the Togolese handball federation and his extensive support staff.

We knew that the IOC were being given 250 miles of so-called ‘Zil’ lanes — named after the old Soviet limousines that enjoyed traffic-free passage. They will stretch from London to Weymouth, where the sailing games are being held. It now emerges that there will also be 500 air-conditioned limos whose drivers must wear hats and uniforms.

The IOC does love its little details. The hat stipulation is one of literally hundreds of examples of its micro-management. London must provide a ‘dance café’ in the Olympic Village, so that the athletes can boogie together. A flower shop is also required, which the IOC insists ‘should provide a range of flowers and gifts for customers in the Olympic Village’. British taxpayers will be relieved to know that ‘a balloon rental service is optional’.

The guidance given by the Olympocrats can be bewildering — it offers pages of information about the employment of housekeepers for the athletes, for example. ‘It is recommended that the same housekeeping staff perform their duties for the same teams daily’, because this will ‘build relationships and trust’, ‘give confidence’ and ‘maintain standards’. Making the bed is not enough.

These IOC edicts are called the ‘Olympic technical manuals’. They are attached to the contract signed by the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, when we won the right to host the Games in July 2005. The contract itself was later made public, but for years London 2012 and City Hall refused to publish the manuals, furiously resisting Freedom of Information requests on the grounds that the ‘confidence of the IOC’ must not be breached. It took two years of campaigning by Paul Charman, a strikingly determined east Londoner, for the documents to come to light.

The real reason, perhaps, for this sensitivity is not because of the hats, the dance cafés or any of the other petty embarrassments. It is because the documents show that the British authorities have cravenly agreed to let the IOC create what is, in effect, a state within a state. During the Games, normal London life, including ordinary commerce and the right to basic freedoms, must be subordinated to the five-ring circus that is the Olympic ‘brand protection’ policy.

The IOC is paranoid about what it calls ‘ambush marketing’, which it claims is a ‘serious potential threat to the Olympic Movement’ even if it admits that it has, in fact, ‘not been a significant problem in the past’. Ambush marketing, in the Olympocrats’ eyes, appears to be any branding or promotion for an organisation which has not paid large amounts of money to the Olympics organisers.

Candidate cities, the manuals say, ‘are required to obtain control of all billboard advertising, city transport advertising, airport advertising etc for the duration of the Games and the month preceding it to support the marketing programme’. The cost of hiring these billboards alone will surely be vast.

Customs officers and police must ‘co-operate’ in taking action against unapproved Olympics advertising and the confiscation of non-official goods. In other words, police officers may be diverted from catching criminals to enforcing the commercial interests of the IOC. Customs officers, instead of searching for heroin and child pornography, may end up targeting fake Olympics T-shirts.

Spectators at the Games ‘must not wear clothes or accessories with commercial messages other than the manufacturers’ brand name’. So, for instance, any ten-year-old foolish enough to wear his Manchester United shirt, emblazoned with the commercial logo of the team’s sponsor Aon, could be forced to remove it or be denied admission to the Games. No ‘athlete or other participant’ at the Games can wear any clothing on which the manufacturer’s name takes up more than 10 per cent of the surface area, or 12 square centimetres. No journalist covering the Games is allowed any ‘signage of any kind’, even for his or her own publication — on ‘camera bags, hats or other garments’.

The toughest restrictions apply inside and immediately around the Olympics venues (if you’re a newsagent next to, say, Greenwich Park with a Pepsi sign on your shopfront, heaven help you), but there are also quite serious restrictions in so-called ‘Level 4’ areas — that is, the whole of the rest of the city — in which the organisers of the London Games ‘must attempt to exert as much control over advertising as possible’.

‘Brand protection teams’ will, according to the manuals, ‘conduct surveillance… in the [host] city’. They must ‘attempt to confiscate any infringing ambush material whether inside or outside the venue’. So much for the idea that it was just the police that had search-and-seizure powers on the streets of London. Some of the teams will be accompanied by ‘an attorney, in case it becomes necessary to serve any court documents’ and they ‘must have a police officer within the team or on call within range to assist if necessary in the enforcement of the orders’.

Here, things become even more grandiose. There is even, according to the documents, an ‘airspace plan’ for London 2012, ‘to prohibit any [non-sponsored] presence within the airspace above the Olympic venues, and in the surrounding areas within the host city’. Even the IOC has the grace to admit, however, that ‘there may be obstacles to carrying out airspace requirement s completely. For example, it may be impossible to alter the regular flight pattern of commercial airlines.’

Long-suffering taxpayers have been given the impression that the Games will put our nation on the global map, but the documents suggest that something rather different will happen: a geographical space off north-west Europe currently occupied by a nation called Britain will, for the duration of the Games, be taken over by an entirely new country. For at every ceremony during London 2012, by contractual requirement, the Olympics flag must be more prominent than the Union flag: ‘Precedence of flags: Olympic Flag, Flag of the OCOG or city, flag of the province, region or canton, national flag,’ the manuals insist.

Her Majesty will doubtless acquiesce to the IOC’s demands for an Olympic ceremony and royal reception on the day before the Games open, though it is worth noting that she has little choice. The documents make clear that, as a matter of course, ‘IOC members are presented to the Head of State’, after which they will all watch ‘an artistic programme reflecting local traditions or culture’. What a national triumph.

Naturally, the costs associated with all of this are not borne purely by the taxpayer: £1.4 billion of sponsorship has been raised to finance the games and the IOC will contribute tens of millions more. The trouble is that the burden on British taxpayers has already reached roughly £12 billion. We may be paying the piper, but these documents show that the IOC is calling the tune.

In perhaps the most insulting touch of all, London must ‘ensure that billboards and pageantry are displayed throughout the city’. As well as being in English, ‘such billboards and pageantry shall be in French’ — which is the second language of the IOC. London beat Paris to host the 2012 Olympics, and yet we are required to plaster our capital city with thousands of posters in French.

England may still be sore about losing the World Cup last week — but by God, look at the Olympic guidelines and you’ll realise that we dodged a bullet. There really are only so many Zil lanes and smartly dressed chauffeurs a country can put up with.

The IOC documents can be viewed in full on