Friday, December 28, 2012

The Greatest Sporting Performance of 2012

So it’s congratulations to Bradley Wiggins on claiming the mantle of Sports Personality of the Year. And although my vote went to the redoubtable Ellie Simmonds, it is difficult to begrudge Wiggins the award following his victory in the Tour de France and subsequent Olympic gold. What’s more he’s demonstrated a fair amount more élan than the usual sporting suspects who can barely manage an interview beyond the normal “Actually, at the end of the day, it was, actually, quite a tough contest in a game of two halves. Actually.” Here’s a man who can conduct his interviews in French, a mixture of post-Mod chic and laconic wit. And he should probably get those sideburns insured.

Still, it irritates me that ‘Wiggo’ has got such a poor nickname. It must say something about the British psyche that the sporting world and its journalists can’t move beyond a standard formula (shorten surname, and/or, add –a, -y or –o suffix). There was a time when English cricket was stuck in this rut, with the likes of Harmy, Stewy, Goughy and so on and on and on. It reached the stage where it was a blessed relief to find an Athers to break the monotony.  Now the guys on Test Match Special chortle heartily at how they must explain to their Indian colleagues why Alistair Cook is known as ‘Chef’. How far we’ve come. Yet Wiggins did at least manage to make the journos think. Wiggly and Wiggster were dismissed out of hand and Wiggy was quite obviously never going to be an acceptable moniker, whilst Wigga would have left the sub-editors with a dangerous bout of hypertension. Wiggo it is then.

Bradley Wiggin’s achievements in 2012 were indeed great. Olympic gold is rare enough but to win cycling’s premier endurance race as well is truly remarkable. The fact his SPOTY accolade was, in part, a reflection of the fact that he was the first Briton to win the Tour only serves to cheapen his triumphs. His victories have been stunning enough without locating them in the past failings of an imagined community. Bradley Wiggins would be a sporting icon if he had been the twentieth British winner of the Tour de France. Besides, he was born in Belgium and his dad’s Australian, so some of you need to get a grip with the national pride.

All of which begs the question, I’m sure you will agree, of what was the greatest sporting achievement of the year? The BBC’s Overseas Sports Personality honour went to Usain Bolt, following his triple gold medal haul at the London Games. No quibbles here given that he is the pre-eminent global sporting superstar and, quite simply, bloody awesome. It is a mark of how incredible an athlete he is – not to mention how churlish I can be – that I was disappointed by his failure to break any world records at the Olympics.

Another contender would be Hashim Amla, the South African batsman whose imperious form made a quality English bowling attack look positively ordinary. His 311 at the Oval was probably the finest innings I’ve never seen and he was a leading contender for beard of the year as well! And, lest I risk the wrath of at least one middle distance fan, I simply cannot fail to mention the performance of David Rudisha at the Olympics. The Massai middle-distance runner won the 800m title and in the process became the first person to break the 1:41.00 barrier. That he did so with such breath-taking grace guarantees his place amongst the greats of track and field.

And, finally, who can forget the unbelievable Sebastian Vettel, the youngest triple World Champion Formula 1 has ever seen? Well, me for one. Well done, Seb, ol’ chap, but let’s face it, F1 is basically an advertising exercise carried out at ridiculous speed. Essentially he’s a crazed taxi driver with less interesting chit-chat. Nuff said.

So, to the winner of the very first Inside Left Sporting Performance of the Year Award. For me there was only ever one victor, one person who produced a performance that – quite literally – made me jump up and shout “NO FUCKING WAY!!!” And that was Aries Merritt who broke the 110m hurdles record in Brussels. He didn’t just break the world record, he smashed it, taking over a tenth of a second off the previous best. When Usain Bolt broke the men’s 100m record by a tenth of a second he was rightly lauded as the incredible athlete of his generation. Merritt managed the same achievement but did so whilst hurdling three and a half foot barriers. And he ran an extra 10 metres. It was a stunning athletic feat, coupling unerring speed with technical brilliance. For this he is the very first winner of the ILSPOTYA. I’m sure he’ll be dead chuffed and his mum will be oh-so-proud. And for those of you that want to know what I’ve been gobbing off about, you can see it in the video below. Happy new year y’all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sports Personality of the Year

Wow, is it really that time of the year again? Tonight is the Beeb’s annual Sport Personality of the Year shindig which is, for the first time in a very long time, bordering on the genuinely interesting. Though the fact that I am yet to buy a single Christmas present is a far more pressing and urgent matter. For those of you not in the know the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award was inaugurated way back in 1954 and is dished out annually to the British sports star deemed to have had the biggest impact in the calendar year.

Of course this means that SPOTY – the irritating shorthand by which the award has come to be known – has approximately sod all to do with sporting personalities, a point that can be well illustrated by a quick glance at past winners which include the likes of Michael Owen, Nigel Mansell, Zara Phillips, Nick Faldo and Damon Hill (TWICE!). While they may well have excelled in their respective sporting fields they hardly lit up our lives with dazzling wit and repartee. 
Rather SPOTY (eugh!) is a signifier of sporting achievement: sportsmen and women are judged not on their persona but on the magnitude of their success. Yet because athletes representing a whole number of sports are involved objective criteria are inevitably impossible.  Modern codified sports may operate on the basis that success and failure are quantifiable, thus the team that scores the most goals/tries/runs/points is deemed the winner, but how are we supposed to measure the relative merits of success across two or more sports? Is Chris Hoy’s sixth Olympic gold medal a greater accomplishment than Rory McIlroy’s eight-shot victory at the US PGA Championship or Wiggo's Tour and Olympic double more impressive than Mo's long-distance double? Well, don’t ask me, how the bloody hell am I meant to know?

The irony of it all is that, in the main, the shortlist for this year’s award flies in the face of the oxymoronic history of the Sports Personality award. Not only does it contain a number of candidates who you might actually consider to be ‘characters’, it is also chock full of wonderfully interesting biographies. From the Somali asylum seeker (Mo Farah) to the trailblazing female boxer (Nicola Adams) all the way through to the rower who won Olympic gold after three consecutive silvers (Katherine Grainger) there is a wealth of backstory providing a human interest angle to counterbalance the medal count. The selection is also more inclusive than in previous years: five of the shortlist are women, and three are Paralympians.

None of which, unfortunately, gets us any closer to working out who ‘deserves’ the award. And the issue is complicated further by the question of nationalism. Sporting triumphs are assessed by what each person has achieved but are then, in turn, measured against the past successes (and, more accurately, failures)  of British sportspeople. So it is not enough to say that Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, you must say that he is the first Briton to ever win the event. Similarly, one cannot talk of Andy Murray’s victory at the US Open without noting that he is the first British man to win a Grand Slam tournament since Fred Perry some 76 years ago. Thus the line-up of sporting heroes not only competes against each other but also against a country’s sporting history. At one and the same time such comparisons both inflate and diminish the scale of today's success. And all the while politicians argue that sporting glory is a cause for happiness and an indication of the health of the nation.

It is this nationalism, as much as the acronym itself, which makes me baulk at SPOTY. And, in the year of the London Olympics you can expect tonight’s BBC event to be as much an exercise in self-congratulatory backslapping as it is an award ceremony. But as someone once said – I can’t for the life of me remember whether it was Marx or Trotsky – you can’t be neutral on the question of Sports Personality of the Year. Without doubt it’s about time a (non-royal) female athlete won the award again, and it is also an excellent opportunity to mark the success of athletes who competed at the Paralympics. Any socialists tuning in tonight should keep their fingers crossed that either Sarah Storey or Ellie Simmonds will cap 2012 with yet another victory.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Adorno and the 'where were you when you were shite' theorem

Following my piece Sports Fans, Death Threats and Theodor Adorno, the good folks at Philosophy Football got in touch to see if I'd plug their new T-shirt in the run up to Christmas. Obviously I told them that, as a revolutionary socialist who stands in the tradition of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, I baulk at the idea of using this blog as a piece of cheap advertising. "You might produce interesting casual wear for the discerning political sports fan, but capitalism is still capitalism, which is especially painful at this time of year, when the entire globe is encouraged to celebrate a festival of the commodity." They replied, "We'll throw in a free T-shirt." I said, "Done." And there you have it. What does it cost to buy my principes? About £22.99 plus p+p. Here's the blurb:
The self-styled sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction, aka Philosophy Football have a new pick for the T-shirted squad, joining their back four Theodor Adorno. Doyen of the Frankfirt School of defending, a natural choice for left back as he was sometimes left standing when other classes of players moved forward at greater speed than he was expecting. Somewhat one-dimensional in the tackle, nevertheless his eye for the ball was positively enlightening. But most of all Adorno was identified with the necessity to endure suffering on the road to glory, otherwise known as the 'where were you when you were shite' theorem. The Adorno Philosophy Football T-shirt is available from here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Marx, Lenin, Chess

Apparently Karl Marx liked a game of chess. According to his biographer Francis Wheen, Marx whiled away an evening at a party hosted by the chess master Gustav Neumann as he waited for the proofs of Capital to be returned. A record remains of a game he played that night. Since everyone is undoubtedly interested in the result I can tell you that Marx won when his opponent, the enigmatic Meyer, resigned after the 28th move.

Lenin too was a chess enthusiast. Despite his hectic schedule he found time to play games, via correspondence, with the likes of Anatoli Lunacarsky and Maxim Gorky. I hope that at some point an uncomprehending spy managed to intercept a letter from Vladimir only to open the envelope and find a piece of paper reading, “Bd2-c3+”. That would have kept the intelligence services busy for a while. But Lenin was more than a keen player – he loved the game. His wife, Krupskaya, wrote at one point that, “Vladimir Ilyich had to give up chess, his favourite game, because it involved too much of his time.” Which is understandable when you realise that this was written about Lenin’s return to Russia in April 1917! The disappointment of her husband is almost palpable. I doubt that Lenin very often found common ground with members of the British clergy from the seventeenth century, but you suspect that he would have agreed with Thomas Fuller when he said, “When a man’s house is on fire, it’s time to break off chess.” In all honesty I’m a bit surprised that a right-wing historian hasn’t explained the July Days as a result of Lenin desperately trying to unpick Gorky’s surprise Sicilian defence.

So, there you go. The two heavyweights of the Communist tradition liked nothing more than a game of chess. And could it have been otherwise when chess is nothing less than the “gymnasium of the mind”? But it raises the question of why there has been no widespread condemnation of this pastime? In my last post I noted that much of the left has berated modern sports, tripping over each other to denounce it in the sternest terms. Back in the 1920s, in post-revolutionary Russia, the Prolekult rejected sport on the grounds that it was ideologically incompatible with a socialist society, not just because of the stresses and strains it might place on the body but because its competitive nature mirrored the competition of capitalism. What then of chess? Sure it doesn’t have the athletic zeal of football, rugby or (for that matter) darts, but chess is still a competitive game. Doesn’t this make it every inch as counter-revolutionary as modern sports?

In fact, if anything, in ideological terms chess is far worse than whatever modern sports has to offer. As the British grandmaster Nigel Short once remarked, “Chess is ruthless: you’ve got to be prepared to kill people.” Chess is war, nothing more, nothing less. And not even the good class-war kind of war. Two royal armies confront each other in a battle over land and supremacy. The masses are deployed in a war of position, and then sacrificed to protect the assembled clergy and aristocracy. Regicide is victory, but the result is not democracy. One ruler is replaced by another. The king is dead. Long live the king! Looked at in this way chess was counter-revolutionary in 1640 and 1789, let alone 1917.

Perhaps someone, somewhere has produced a socialist version of the game where the pawns all rise up, and the players take turns capturing their own pieces in a dull – but ideologically correct – board game version of revolutionary defeatism. Yet I am still to come across somebody calling for the abolition of chess, or arguing that it is anti-socialist. Having said that, playing chess blindfolded was banned in the Soviet Union in 1930 (although this wasn’t nearly as daft as the USSR’s denunciation of yoga in 1973 because it was “based on idealistic philosophy and mysticism”!).

How do we explain the way many of the left condemn some forms of competitive play and not others? For sure personal history will play a part. None of us, I hope, was forced at school to play chess in our pants because we’d forgotten our kit, or made to castle in front of our on-looking classmates because we hadn’t done it right the first time. Maybe we engage with chess as a leisure pursuit rather than a commodity. Maybe, unlike sports, we don’t associate it so closely with politics and nationalism (look up Bobby Fischer on Wikipedia if you believe this to be true). Perhaps it’s just an oversight and some lefty intellectual will eventually condemn chess. Whatever the reasoning, it is clear that understanding competitive play involves shades of grey. Even chess isn’t a simple case of black and white.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sports Fans, Death Threats and Theodor Adorno

Earlier this month James McClean played all 90 minutes for Sunderland in their match against Everton. Within hours death threats appeared on Twitter directed at the 23 year old Ulsterman. His crime was to choose not to wear a shirt emblazoned with a poppy. I have no idea why he made this choice. Maybe he is, as his accusers assert, the personification of evil who despises the armed forces. Maybe he’s sick of the hypocrisy of politicians who use the poppy to justify whatever mad murderous military mayhem they’re perpetuating across the globe. Maybe McClean, who grew up in Derry, has already seen too much of the British state. What I do know is that his decision was met with tweeted outrage. “he deserves to be shot dead + body dragged past the cenotaph” wrote one considered and informed observer. And in his next match McClean was booed by sections of the crowd when he came on as a substitute.
Fast forward to this week and witness how Tottenham supporters were brutally attacked in a Rome bar. Reports seem to be unclear as to whether the assailants were Lazio or Roma fans, but their connections to the far-right Ultras don’t seem to be in doubt. As they attacked the Spurs fans, including stabbing one in the groin, they shouted “Jews” repeatedly. At the match between Tottenham and Lazio sections of the Italian club's fans were cited for continuous anti-Semitic chanting.
For the detractors of modern sports these examples are yet more evidence that the games we play and watch are socially and morally corrosive. It is a criticism levelled by people on both the left and right. Recently I’ve been researching left-wing attitudes on sport for a book on the 2012 Olympics. Almost without exception the writers most quoted as representative of the left – Brohm, Rigauer, Chomsky – are voices critical of sport to the point of disdain. Consider, for instance, this quotation from Theodor Adorno:
“Sport is ambiguous. On the one hand, it can have an anti-barbaric and anti-sadistic effect by means of fair play, a spirit of chivalry, and consideration for the weak. On the other hand, in many of its varieties and practices it can promote aggression, brutality, and sadism, above all in people who do not expose themselves to the exertion and discipline required by sports but instead merely watch: that is, those who regularly shout from the sidelines.” 
Formally Adorno’s claim that sport is ambiguous is correct. But this has the feeling of a statement where caveats are deployed early doors so as not to interfere with the main message: sport is bad. For Adorno sports are, on balance, harmful social phenomena, and although their worst aspects may be offset by certain conventions, they damage the players and debase the spectators. And the context in which these words appear is fascinating. They are taken from Adorno’s Education after Auschwitz, an essay which examines the ways in which a repeat of the Holocaust might be avoided in an era when the prospects for revolutionary change seemed dire. The fact that Adorno, in the middle of a discussion of the worst atrocity in human history, takes time for such an aside reveals much about his attitude to sport.
He does at least attempt to make a reasonably nuanced argument. Compare that to the recent work by Marc Perelman, a French intellectual writing in the shadow of Jean-Marie Brohm. Everything you need to know about Perelman’s book can be discerned from its title – Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague. Whatever valid insights he may have about capitalism’s pernicious effects on sport are negated by the patronising tone he takes with working class people who watch sport. We are, according to Perelman, under the influence of a new “opiate of the masses”, leaving us as “people who can never live fulfilling lives, being in the grip of that enslaving power known as sport.”  Perelman recasts sports as the single greatest Jedi-mind trick of the bourgeoisie (and is despatched with gusto in this review). If you have an interest in re-constituted mechanical Althusserianism you should get this book. Otherwise save yourself a tenner, and enjoy this critique provided by my partner who looked at the title and said, “Oooh, someone got picked last at school.”
Any genuine attempt to understand the contradictions of sport and its spectators simply cannot start from the premise that we’ve all been conned. Nor can it contend that sport turns its fans and followers into mindless, aggressive automatons. Apart from the fact that this is demonstrably untrue, there is a danger of echoing the collective stigmatising of working class sports fans all too common on the right. In the 1980s, before the tragedy of Hillsborough, Thatcher’s government looked to force identity cards on all football fans, while the Sunday Times described the game as “a slum game played by slum people”. Football fans were seen as that quintessential ruling class fear – a mob.
But the reality of spectating is more ambiguous. Yes, the terraces can house people who are racist, sexist and homophobic but they can also be sites of resistance to that bigotry. They can be an arena of humour, companionship and fun. Sports fans can gather in a stadium and treat George Osborne to the kind of contemptuous reception he deserves. They can arrive as the supporters of one team yet still glory at the performance of the opposition, just as Pompey fans did with Thierry Henry as he mesmerised spectators and defenders alike during Arsenal’s visit to Fratton Park a few years ago. In the early 1990s, as a dismal England cricket team were put to the sword by Sri Lanka, many a fan came to cheer for the underdog, won over by their mixture of joy and carefree, playful abandon. The standing ovation that greeted Fabrice Muamba at White Heart Lane recently was a reminder that even us football fans understand that some things are not as important as life and death. In Egypt the Ultras were on the frontline of the revolution, physically confronting SCAF.
And occasionally sport can be an arena of solidarity. The weekend following the release of a report into Hillsborough, exonerating Liverpool fans and exposing a massive police cover-up, fans across the country sang You’ll Never Walk Alone before their matches. This week during the game between Liverpool and the Swiss team Young Boys, the travelling fans paused from their constant ebullient singing to hold aloft a sign that read “IN MEMORY OF HILLSBOROUGH”.
None of this proves that sport is inherently good or bad. What it does is highlight that it is contradictory. Any serious assessment needs to take note of such a fact, because hyperbolic, one-dimensional critiques of sports are nothing short of a global plague.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Police Ineptitude. Again.

The shocking and bizarre story of a 61 year old blind man who was tasered by the police after they mistook his stick for a samurai sword, has once again raised the quesion of the ineptitude and brutality of the force. Colin Farmer thought he was being mugged before realising that he was being attacked by "a thug in a policeman's uniform". Which was indeed the case.

Needless to say the institutional violence, corruption and racism of the police has long been apparent. In the 1970s and 1980s it seemed as though you only had to put a place name and number together to find a miscarriage of justice. The 1990s unfolded beneath the cloud of the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the fallout from the ensuing Macpherson report. By the start of the new millenium the old bill had revised their modus operandi entirely by cutting out the middleman. No longer fitting up people for crimes they didn't commit or simply ignoring evidence the police took to unlawfully kililng people all by themselves.

These high profile examples are merely the tip of the ice berg. On a daily basis people feel the effects of police bullying, harrassment and intimidation although the outcome is not, thankfully, always as catastrophic as in the cases of the Birmingham Six, Jean Charles de Menezes or Ian Tomlinson. In the past week I've seen the owner of a local sandwich shop sell up after months of the old bill "just popping in for a chat", and a young Asian single mother fined for wasting police time after reporting a mugging. And perhaps most farcically of all a friend of mine was wrongfully arrested for threatening a woman with a knife.

Residents at a block of flats in Portsmouth called the police after seeing a man threaten his girlfriend with a kitchen knife following an especially heated argument. When the police arrived they were looking for a man in his late fifties, balding and with no teeth. My friend - in his forties, elogently coiffured, and with a mouthful of teeth (many of which are still his own) - answered the knock at the door expecting the police to enquire about that evening's events. Instead they grabbed hold of his arm, hauled him out of his home and handcuffed him. All of which took place as his five year old grandson played in the background. Unsurprisingly my friend voiciferously protested his innocence, though it fell on deaf ears. The only time the friendly neighbourhood bobbies spoke was when they warned my friend to "behave" because he was appearing "increasingly agitated".

To be fair to the plod, they had managed to find both the right street and the right block of flats, but it was at this point that their Holmesian powers of deduction failed them. They got the wrong man because they went to the wrong flat. It appears their sense of direction was askew because they had run the criminal records of people in the block and my friend's name had produced a hit. However his record is spotless, and the caution on record belonged to his son who shares his name. The police had arrived full of pre-conceived ideas and nothing was likely to change that - especially the evidence in front of their eyes. Not even the intervention of the couple who had made the original 999 call could dissuade the police from pursuing their error to its illogical conclusion.

Eventually, as my friend was on the verge of being thrown into a meat wagon, the cop in charge asked him to open his mouth. "Oh," said the brains of the operation. "It's not you. You've got teeth." Elementary! An hour after being released, and with his wrists grazed and bruised, my friend answered his front door again to once more be confronted with the police. "Er, yes, well, er, sorry about earlier. Can we ask you some questions about the man with the knife?" Raising his eyebrows in exasperation my friend asked if they were joking before shutting the door in their face.

Still the whole shambolic episode did allow my friend the glimmer of a silver lining. That night he phoned the police himself to report an assault. Could he provide a description of his assailants? "Yes, certainly officer, there were three of them, all wearing police uniforms. I even managed to get their numbers if that would help..."

The truth is that thiis kind of incident is all too commonplace - and even worse if you happen to be from an ethnic minority. The police are held up as the neutral upholders of a neutral law. How far from reality this is! Fundamentally their job is to maintain the status quo. It should come as no surprise that their actions are so often conceived in ignorance and prejudice and executed with arrogant contempt. If you want to know where the institution of the police force stand in class terms, try a simple test. See how much use they are when you have a bike nicked, and compare that to the speed with which thousands of riots cops descend upon London when a bunch of lefties march past McDonalds, Starbucks and Nike.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Smuggle The Revolutionary Paper Across The Border

   "People will divide into “parties” over the question of a new gigantic canal, or the distribution of oases in the Sahara (such a question will exist too), over the regulation of the weather and the climate, over a new theater, over chemical hypotheses, over two competing tendencies in music, and over a best system of sports."
                  - Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution
For a brief period after the Russian Revolution, before Stalin butchered hope and countless old Bolsheviks, different groups did indeed compete over the question of what constituted the 'best system of sports'. One tendency was the Proletkult movement which urged the abandonment of all 'bourgeois' sports in favour of mass-participatory, non-competitive play.
The late Jim Riordan, historian and author, surveyed the landscape of Russian physical culture during this period in The History of Worker Sport. In passing he records the name of a game developed by the Proletkultists: Smuggle the Revolutionary Paper Across the Border. In vain I searched for the rules or a report of the game being played. I also mentioned it to my friend and comrade Lee Sprake, coordinator for Portsmouth Woodcraft Folk. Inspired merely by the name of the game, Lee created a wide game with a twenty-first century edge. Below he outlines the rules for a game inspired by the revolutionary struggles and play of the past. Please feel free to share, play and enjoy!
Name of activity:  Pass the Revolutionary Paper

Session themes: Newsletter writing, cooperation, solidarity, fun.

Story line: The young people are told that Woodcraft General Council has been infiltrated by fat cats, bankers and (aspiring) media moguls, who want to use Woodcraft to gain power and influence, and to make themselves money. They want to introduce advertisements in the Courier for their fat cat friends and want Woodcraft to start operating more like a business, with increased group registration and membership fees, meaning that only those who can afford it can join. They also see Park Farm as a profitable asset for Woodcraft and have plans to sell it. They know there are people who disagree with what they are doing within Woodcraft and so want to silence dissent and crush self-organisation at all levels. They are enforcing online censorship and have removed from the Woodcraft website all resources and articles that relate to protest, liberation, work, or anything that challenges their own power. Those on the Council who opposed their plans have been forced out.
It is only through spreading alternative ideas at a grass roots level that we can stop their brutal agenda. They have a monopoly over the Woodcraft website and e-mail list, so these are no go areas, and they even have the power to censor articles posted on Facebook. However, newsletters, papers and other physical resources can be sent to districts by post, but only if we can get them and the printing equipment to the distribution centre ourselves.

Leaders should dress up as the fat cats, bankers, toffs and newspaper moguls that have infiltrated General Council.   

Introductory game: Write a newsletter                     Duration: 1 hour

Equipment needed: 2 laptops, printer, paper, papers, newsletter, 4x card board boxes and marker pens.

How to Play: Split the young people into two groups. Tell the young people about past struggles where the production of newspapers was illegal and when taking them over a boarder was an imprisonable offence.  Talk about alternative press, and whose views the mainstream media represent (to give context to the adults being fat cats, media moguls, etc.), why producing newspapers containing certain ideas may be illegal or face attacks from the establishment.  If on camp get the young people to write about what they would change about camp. 

Ask the young people what they think is good about Woodcraft and what we could put in a newsletter. Talk to the young people about what they don’t like about camp (usually clan duties) and ask them to think about what could be done to change this. Get the young people to come up with some ‘transitional demands’ and put them into a ‘revolutionary paper’. The young people have to think about what they can call the paper and one group will write their paper’s name in red and the other in green. We then print enough off for the camp. Fill the cardboard boxes with something to give them a little weight. Mark two of the boxes with printer and two with computer.

Activity: Pass the revolutionary paper                       Duration: 90 minutes

Equipment needed: The revolutionary papers, printing equipment, face paints.

What to do: When it is starting to get dark split into the two groups and proceed to different starting points which will become each groups’ base. This base will have the groups’ papers, a printer (box) and a computer (box). The object for each group is to protect their printing equipment (printer and computer), try to steal the other groups’ papers, and deliver their papers to a base/distribution centre on the other side of the camp. The two bases should start as far apart as possible with the place to deliver the papers close to where the other base starts.


  • Papers to be carried in the hand and not put in pockets or under clothes.

  • Only two papers may be carried by each team member at any time.

  • If a young person has copies of their revolutionary paper then they cannot take any from the other group (therefore each group needs to split into smaller ones).

  • The printing equipment has to be protected at all costs. It may be moved and its new location becomes the new base. Word of this must be got to the rest of the group.

  • Adults will be collecting papers off any unfortunate young people who they catch All adults, therefore, should be avoided (unless they are at the neutral location ‘Café Parisian’).

  • When caught all young people must give up their papers.

  • Any papers or printing equipment confiscated must be taken to Café Parisian (kitchen tent) where they can be collected by that team’s members after they have performed a task to earn them back.

  • Café Parisian and 2 metres around the outside is considered neutral territory - so no one can be caught whilst there.

  • Once papers reach the delivery point they stay there.

  • The game ends when one or both teams has delivered all their papers and returned to their base (where ever that may be) with printing equipment in place. The groups are permitted to work together collectively against the adults to get their papers delivered but we should try and let them work that out!
Circle discussion points: Has the printed word had its day? Could anyone foresee a return to newsletters etc.?  Did the groups unite against the leaders? If so did it make things easier? Were there discussions around joining the other group?  

Resources: Socialist newspapers and newsletters

Tips/Variations: Have a couple of District Fellows act as agitators who can give the young people hints about working together. The warm up part can be left out. A darker side can be added by having the adults become zombies.  

Tasks to get papers back in Cafe Parisian:
- Eating 4 cream crackers in a minute without a glass of water.
- Talking for a minute about something (it could be something stupid like a tin of beans, or something to get them thinking, such as a certain issue or something they agree/disagree with. Use your own discretion as to how long you actually make them talk for).
- Collecting 5 things: e.g. a rock, 4 different types of leaves, a piece of paper, a ball, a tent peg. This gets harder in the dark!
- Picking up cereal box with teeth game.
- Tent peg dipping.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Poshboys, Plebs and the Police

Last week I passed on the opportunity to blog about Andrew Mitchell's outburst of snob tourettes mistakenly believing that the story wouldn't last all that long. Roll on a week and the bloody thing still hasn't gone away. Instead it's started to resemble a Jeffrey Archer novel: a frankly ridiculous storyline populated by a series of detestable characters that hasn't reached a conclusion nearly quickly enough. Still, since it rumbles on, it gives me a chance to put in my two pennies worth. Hurrah!

Let's re-cap quickly for anyone not paying attention. Andrew Mitchell, Tory MP and Chief Whip, attempted to leave Downing Street on a bicycle before being told by a copper that he was not allowed to use the main entrance, and should instead use the side gate. Such provocation prompted Mitchell, a former UN peacekeeper, to lose his rag and launch a foul mouthed tirade against this uppity oik, and you get the impression that the affronted Tory was on the verge of giving the officer a Basil Fawlty-style damn good thrashing.

The police account of the event ended up on the front page of The Sun, which claimed Mitchell had called the officer a pleb. Mitchell himself denies that he said 'pleb' but admits to be abusive. I must confess that there was a brief moment when I thought Mitchell might actually be telling the truth. As a Liverpool fan I immediately become sceptical any time I see the police report an incident and The Sun regurgitate it assuring us that it is an accurate version of events ("a.k.a. The Truth").

The trouble for Mitchell is that the idea of a member of Cameron's Bullingdon Club Cabinet having nothing but contempt for us poor people is eminently plausible. The police officer at the centre of the saga alledges Mitchell told him:
"Best you learn your fucking place... you don't run this fucking government. You're all fucking plebs."
There can't be a trade union member in the country who doesn't think that the Tories talk about us in these terms every single day. It is afterall the subtext to every Coalition cut and piece of legislation. Three hundred years ago we were the swinish multitude, today we're still plebs. How far we've come.

But it is the context rather than the specifics that are most interesting. The past few months have seen the police come under increased scrutiny and continued vilification - and with good cause. The corruption and brutality of the force, long apparent but so often deniable, has played out centre stage, most notably with the high profile inquests into the deaths of Mark Duggan and Ian Tomlinson, and the release of the independent report into the Hillsborough tragedy. A central plank of ruling class ideology - the rule of law and the use of the police to enforce it - has come under sustained attack.

The events of the last two weeks, however, have enabled the attack dogs of the status quo to go on the counter offensive. Almost as soon as the news of two female police officers being killed in Manchester hit the headlines we had Norman Tebbit calling for the re-introduction of the death penalty, while an assortment of Conservative backbench non-entities made noises about arming the police. Crticisms of the force are being sidelined in the mainstream at a time when so much evidence points to its political nature and institutional dishonesty and violence. Andrew Mitchell calling a pig a pleb may have been a moment of embarrassment for Cameron, but it has helped to create a flurry of uncritical and unthinking media commentary favourable to the police. It has played its own small part in ensuring that the questions being asked of the old bill are framed purely in terms of how much respect we have for them. As such Mitchell's rant has proved as much a gift as a gaffe for the establishment.

For anyone in Portsmouth who might be interested: I'll be speaking on "Hillsborough, the police and the Tories" at Southsea Community Centre, Wednesday 3rd October, 8pm.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

John Terry - The Guilty Verdict

Guest post: Back in July Richie Moran - anti-racist activist and ex-professional footballer - wrote a piece for Inside Left assessing the levels of racism in the beautiful game following John Terry's acquittal from charges of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.
This week the Football Association found the Chelsea captain guilty of the same charge, banning him for four games and fining him £220,000. Before the verdict was revealed Terry called time on his England career. In this guest post Richie returns to put the case and its result into perspective.

As ever with football related matters, the breathtaking arrogance of many of those involved leaves me almost apoplectic with rage. Luckily as ever the simplicity with which most of the arguments can be shot down with just a few seconds thought gives me some sustenance.
The simple fact. John Terry was guilty of aiming a disgusting racist remark at Anton Ferdinand. I predicted before the case that he would be found not guilty. Before writing an article on the matter I read Judge Riddles summing up. He fully accepted that Terry called Ferdinand a "fucking black cunt", but that it could not be proven that it was meant in a derogatory or insulting manner.As someone who has heard similar terms far too many times in my 49 years, I was not aware that there were any other ways to say it! As I stated in the article, having heard one of the players in my sons Under 15 side called a "dirty nigger" by an opposition member last season, Riddle has merely given carte blanche for anyone to now get away with such language.I would go so far to say that Riddles conclusion perhaps speaks volumes for his (and the white establishments) views on race!!!

So Teflon John was judged not guilty in a court of law. So what. Policeman Simon Harwood was (again wholly predictably) found not guilty of the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson, despite a coroners verdict of unlawful killing. Some years ago I gave a speech at New Scotland Yard where in front of the top policemen in London, I read out a list of black men who had died in police custody. I then read an adjoining list of those who had found to be unlawfully killed by a coroner, yet no policeman had ever been charged with murder or manslaughter.The Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Cardiff Three and so many more, all found guilty in a court of law, but subsequently found to be innocent. There are innumerable members of the Commons and Lords who in the last couple of years have been guilty of fraud, deception and perjury (the Prime Minister had to repay 10k in 'expenses'), yet how many of them such as the odious Peter Viggers even had to face trial?

From articles I have written, research I have done and conversations I have had, there are many men walking the streets of this country who have committed rape. Alternatively there are still many innocent people serving time in prison. So is it entirely inconceivable that a racist can be found not guilty of using the aforementioned term?

Again the FA are quite happy to have as the national team manager a man who quite happily took the money of one of history's most racist regimes and has form for dismissing anti-semitic slurs, claimed by Eyal Berkovic, when he was manager at Blackburn. Likewise was the Under 21's manager, not once found to have racially abused Paul Ince? As I have stated before the fact that these and the likes of Ashley Cole and the Chelsea and Liverpool players who defended Terry and Suarez (and the English transcript of what he actually said to Evra is far worse than the sanitised so called cultural misunderstanding) were pictured at Auschwitz and Oskar Schindlers factory during Euro 2012 makes me sick to my stomach.
Just in case people don't get any of this and especially for Mr. Cole. When you and Ashley Young missed penalties in Euro 2012, most of the tweets I read did not refer to you being unable to hit the target from 12 yards did they? Furthermore when Jon Obi Mikel's mistake led to a Juventus equaliser in the Champions League the fact that he may not be a Xavi or Iniesta was not the premier concern.

It was obvious again for football to retain the minuscule shred of credibility that it still has that Terry would be found guilty (I sincerely hope that Ferdinand brings a civil case against him) and also equally predictable that his ban would be shorter than that of Suarez and only one game longer than the tackle by Jonjo Shelvey, whose momentum carried him into Johnny Evans, who went in two footed in last weekend's Liverpool v Manchester United fixture. I'm sure that the non-racist multi-millionaire will be extremely troubled by the 200k fine!

It would be nice for once if some of the leading black players and commentators such as Garth Crooks (surely the most sycophantic man in history) actually spoke out and condemned Terry. John Barnes comments about Terry being an unconscious racist (although it's a nice thought) are, again, wholly predictable and having shared a speakers platform with him as risible as one might expect.

All of you, stop repeating the mantra that it is time to move on and draw a line under such events.It is 2012 and indeed we should have moved on, but someone tell me how we can when a man who is supposed to as a (former of course) captain of your national side and therefore someone who one might reasonably expect to be some sort of role model is arrogant enough to insist he has done nothing wrong, backed up by not only his black team mates (who are suitably bereft of shame) and a moronic racist element of his club and country supporters.

I will be at the opening of a Black History Month event on Monday and will be getting together with people to try and take some sort of action against those who perpetrate, condone and support the continuation of racism and racist behaviour.
The beautiful game (like the appropriate acronym FA), is as much an oxymoron as honour killing or American intelligence.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Summer Of Sport I Missed

Like a tabloid pull-out supplement at the start of a new Premiership season, I’m back! Bigger, better and with smaller words than ever before! But, sports fans, before normal service is resumed it’s time to break out the world’s tiniest violin. As sure as egotism goes hand-in-hand with insecurity, so my story of heartache, misery and woe rivals anything Kevin Pieterson has had to endure over the past few months. All sorts of personal trials and tribulations have been behind my blogging hiatus: homelessness, a relationship breakup, no TV, no internet! It’s been a summer to forget for Inside Left, which is a shame because it’s been the most extraordinary summer of sport.

The break has of course meant that I’ve written nowt about the Olympics. It’s a silence interpreted by some – such as those cheeky, contrarian monkeys over at Spiked - as a mea culpa in the face of the “Greatest Games Ever™”. (And, FYI, if your radicalism sounds a little like a Seb Coe press release, then, really, you ain’t that radical.) So it’s time to put that right. Let’s start with a look at the sport itself. Since I saw almost sod all of the Games I’ll restrict myself to a few words on the one sport I did manage to catch a glimpse of – the athletics.

When Michael Johnson, the former Olympic champion turned BBC pundit, concluded that we had witnessed the greatest ever athletic meet, I couldn’t help but agree, even if the quality of the track far outweighed that of the field. Usain Bolt was spectacularly and unsurprisingly glorious. David Rudisha produced the most complete middle-distance race ever witnessed. Mo Farah completed a historic long-distance double (“typical, bloody asylum seekers, coming over here, winning ‘our’ gold medals, becoming national heroes…”).  In the women’s events Caster Semenya upset the form book to claim a wonderful silver medal behind Mariya Savinova in the 800m and in the process prompted Colin Jackson into an unexpected but most welcome insight. Semenya, hounded by the press and the athletics establishment, has contended with slights, insinuation and intrusion since her magical run in the 2009 World Championships. (Dave Zirin talks a lot of sense about Semenya in this interview.) Jackson, sartorially elegant but not known as a sports psychologist, suggested that Semenya had been capable of winning the race but on a subconscious level would rather finish second so as to avoid the media spotlight. It was a genuinely intelligent reading in television coverage that amounted to little more jingoism, pun making and track side reporter Phil Jones constantly asking athletes: “What did you think of this crowd?!”

But my problem with the Olympics was never the sport in and of itself. I could hardly blog about sport if I were not a sports fan. What irks me is the way sports are packaged, the accoutrements they inevitably bring. The price of the Games is still an appalling waste during a recession. I still find the nationalism and the corporate sponsorship distasteful. The myth of legacy – jobs, economic growth and regeneration – remains a series of untruths and hyperbole.

In fact the people who have emerged with the greatest Olympic legacies – athletes aside – have been Seb Coe and Boris Johnson. Coe, as I previously predicted, is heading for the IOC, while Johnson, who attached himself like a limpet to the Games, is now seriously considered as a challenger to David Cameron’s leadership of the Tories. Perhaps Boris and Dave could square off in a battle to the death in a new sport: Toff Fight! Now there’s a pay-per-view I’d happily shell out for… Otherwise the legacy is looking a little shaky.

It was only a week into the Olympics before Larry Elliot could write of how “expectations of a major boost to [economic] growth are rapidly being downgraded”. It seems that these fears have been borne out in the past few days as figures show that retail sales took a dip during the Games. Although the true impact - both the costs and benefits - of staging the Olympics will only become apparent in the years to come, there remains significant doubt as to quite how much London 2012 has affected such things as the long term unemployment figures. As Richard Anderson, the BBC’s business producer, reminds us: “Most economists agree major sporting events rarely bring lasting financial reward. The government will have its work cut out to buck the trend.” Still, we can always be thankful that, according to Lloyds Bank, we accrued £165 worth of happiness thanks to the Games!

And, of course, the inquest is beginning into the shambolic security operation of the firm G4S. They now top a ‘black-list’ of companies who even the government won’t trust to run public services. With G4S redefining the phrase ‘fit for purpose’, thousands of troops were drafted in to supplement the private security force – and everyone agreed that the armed forces were incredibly friendly and helpful. No shit, Sherlock. Who would have guessed that a bunch of people whose job it is normally to kill and be shot at would be happy and smiley whilst on a two week jolly working tourist information? Besides, some of their time was spent filling in for the corporate schmucks who happily took free tickets for the Games but failed to show up. It turns out that empty seats are as embarrassing for Olympic boosters as they are unappealing for the TV cameras.

Still they all claimed that the London 2012 security operation had been a success. This is true if you ignore the fact that there was never really the threat of a terrorist attack – no matter how much organisers and politicians may otherwise have hinted. It was a little like putting extra locks on your front door and then claiming that this was the reason Mark Thatcher hadn’t organised a coup d’état in your living room. The government flitted between constructing false syllogisms and mealy-mouthed hypocrisy. A cross-party consensus soon emerged urging that children be encouraged to take up sport. Yet in less time than it takes Boris Johnson to complete a zip-wire descent, news was leaked that Michael Gove, MP for child-catching, was caught selling off even more playing fields.

The opening and closing ceremonies were lauded as exemplary celebrations of the Olympic ideal, fusing national pride and razzamatazz. This wasn’t really a surprise though, since combined they cost in the region of half a billion quid. What did people expect? An hour of stand up from Russ Abbott followed by Tony Blackburn picking his favourite songs from Spotify? Far more interesting to note was the reaction of those Tories driven to a state of apoplexy by Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. Aidan Bailey took time out from attending Nazi-themed fancy dress stag-do’s to denounce the show as “leftie multi-cultural crap”.

Even I let loose a chuckle as Eric Idle fell out of a cannon during the closing ceremony, before he urged us to look on the bright side of life. In weirdly portentous fashion the former Python hinted at the post-Olympic comedown and return to austerity-ridden normality we were in for, reminding us that “life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it”. It was a sentiment that may well have chimed with those people volunteering at the Games. Channel 4 news ran interviews with the volunteers, all of whom spoke of the joyous experience of the past weeks, the friends they had made and the memories they would carry with them. Yet there was genuine anguish in the words of one volunteer who said, “I really don’t know what I will do now.” And there, my friends, is the rub.

In keeping with previous Olympiads the Games did indeed win over many of the doubters, and provided that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ buzz of excitement for millions. Endless anecdotal (although clichéd) accounts say that people found themselves happily chatting with strangers on tubes and buses about the event, rather than avoiding eye-contact at all cost, or, at a push, making small talk about the weather. It seems that London 2012 did invoke feelings of companionship and togetherness amongst many people.

This was to be expected – and it’s exactly the point that I argued in my piece on the Olympics for the Irish Marxist Review and elsewhere on this blog. In a world of pain and powerlessness the Olympics (and their purported values) can feel like an oasis of humanity. For a month, the Games and the ensuing Paralympics hinted at a world where people were drawn together rather than divided. But that feeling of solidarity is transitory, ephemeral, and ultimately undermined by the national constructs that contest the medal table. To acknowledge this in no way delegitimises the critique of the Olympics developed by academics and activists alike. Similar to the day after a fantastic party we’re left with a hangover of Olympic proportions, forced to return to the real world of cutbacks and uncertainty, all the time staring into our wallets and wondering where all the money has gone.

Does it have to be this way? Imagine a world where those feelings of shared enjoyment and experience were not fleeting but rather permanent. What if human solidarity was life’s raison d'être rather than merely the by-product of a quadrennial corporate love-in? What if we could have sport but without the hype, the commercialism, and the nationalism? In short, what if we could have sport but not capitalism?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Justice For The 96

Finally we have truth. Soon, I hope, we will have justice. In April 1989 a tragedy claimed the lives of 96 football fans. An incompetent police force, under the direction of uncaring and idiotic superiors, combined with football’s refusal to take seriously the genuine (but costly) safety needs of fans. The result was that so many supporters were allowed into the Hillsborough stadium during the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest that 96 people would die, crushed between their fellow fans and the cages that held them. In the aftermath the police asserted their innocence, politicians wrung their hands, and the media vilified working class people.

For more than twenty years the families of those who died have fought a remarkable fight to clear the names of the dead, football fans and the people of Liverpool.  Today, with the publication of a report of an independent review into the events of that day, David Cameron issued a profound apology. I doubt the PM gives a toss about football fans or working class people, so the unequivocal nature of his statement suggests that the police are absolutely banged to rights.

The aftermath of the tragedy saw the police launch a campaign to blame the victims. It wasn’t their fault, they claimed, but that of the dirty Scousers who had beaten them into submission. The report says otherwise. Not only were the police at fault, but they had doctored 164 witness statements to absolve themselves of guilt. They went on to remove 116 criticisms of police action from the same testimonies. So began a massive cover-up, the likes of which we have never seen before. At least not one that the police have ever been forced to eventually acknowledge.

Just as with the deaths of Mark Duggan and Ian Tomlinson, the role of the coroner in the Hillsborough case was key.  Every single person who died on that tragic day, adult or child, had a blood sample taken. The purpose was to determine drunkenness in the dead – and thereby protect the culpable police force from criticism or blame. They failed. Subsequently, every faceless fatality was subjected (illegally?) to a background check as the pigs looked for criminal records that would excuse their murderous mistakes.

The search for scientific evidence merely helped to legitimise the pursuit of a witch-hunt. After a decade or more of ‘hooliganism’ – and the media were quick to remember the deaths of Italian fans at the 1986 European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus – it was both a sensationalist and easy piece of copy to write. Nobody in the establishment cared that working class football fans had died. Surely it must be their own fault?

At the time the then editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, wrote an infamous headline: The Truth. It was claimed that Liverpool fans themselves were responsible for the deaths that day. Furthermore it asserted that they then fought the emergency services, pickpocketed the dead, and urinated over the deceased. It was all bullshit; every single word a lie. After Cameron made his apology, Mackenzie issued his own. It was, as campaigner Trevor Hicks said, “Too little, too late.”  Hicks’ temperance is extraordinary given that he himself lost two daughters on that fateful day. I myself am not bound by such respectfulness as bereavement brings. McKenzie, like the paper he used to edit, is pure scum.

Today’s report represents the closest approximation of the truth in more than two decades. Why only the closest approximation and not the whole truth? Well… I have not yet had chance to read the whole report but it seems that little judgement is made of a possible conspiracy between the coroner’s office and the police force. It seems likely that this will become one focus amongst many of any potential future prosecution. Equally, I for one remain sceptical that no government has played a part in conspiring to cover up the available evidence. I have heard it said that initial reports into the Hillsborough disaster landed in the office of Margaret Thatcher, where a personal secretary commented that the police accounts had been “defensive bordering on deceitful”. This was, they said, a familiar story. Can we really believe that successive governments knew nothing of the truth? Or is it more like that they hoped the campaign for justice would simply go away?

To the incredible credit of the families of those who died the campaign refused to disappear. Instead it pestered, probed and persevered. Thanks to their amazing fortitude, battling lies and calumnies and poverty, they brought the state to an unlikely admission of guilt. The 140,000 signatures of an online petition calling for an independent inquiry and the full disclosure of unseen documents also played a part. It was a heart breaking and inspiring example of how pressure from below can triumph against the forces of the state. Finally we have a detailed report that exonerates the victims of Hillsborough and blames those with genuine responsibility. It dispels the dirty lies of the media filth and shamed coppers. Today has seen us arrive at truth, after twenty-three long, painful years of campaigning. Tomorrow we see the campaign for justice begin.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Counter Olympics Network Demonstration

Missiles on top of your home
Yesterday I met a man who lives below surface-to-air missiles. Quite literally below. He lives on the top floor of a block of flats in Bow, London. The government in their infinite wisdom have stationed these missiles on top of residential buildings to deter terrorists from attacking the Olympics – and, no doubt, to make Londoners feel safe and secure. The guy explained how two military bods carrying automatic weapons had woken him up by knocking at his door. They informed him that the hardware was in place and, should it be used, his roof would cave in. They didn’t see fit to say what would happen if he was inside. I also met a man who had seen his house compulsory purchased and subsequently bulldozed to make way for an Olympic training venue. I met another person who had spent an hour running from police who had already knocked him from his bike and taken the banner he was carrying. His crime? To stray too close to the Olympic stadium on the night of the opening ceremony.

These were some of the 500 people who dared to attend the Counter Olympics Network Whose Games? Whose City? No to the Corporate Olympics demonstration in London yesterday. It wasn’t the largest demo I’ve ever been on, but it was lively, vocal and angry. And it felt important. At points it seems as though the whole country has fallen into line in seeing the Olympics as beyond criticism. The fact that anybody dared stick their head above the parapet in opposition is impressive. Somebody had to say that it’s a huge amount of money to spend on a sporting event at a time of recession. Somebody had to point out the hypocrisy and greed of the corporate sponsors. Somebody had to say that we don’t want to see our communities militarised. We made those points, and then some.

The demonstration was a wonderful cross-section of London society. Black and white, young and old, and a host of families gave the event a real community feel. At the head of the protest were a number of disabled comrades, keen to highlight the role played by the Olympic sponsor ATOS. John McDonnell MP spoke at the closing rally; Brian Richardson was the best speaker by a mile.

Thankfully the protest passed without the kind of heavy-handed police response witnessed the night before. The monthly Critical Mass bike ride ended near the Olympic stadium, which triggered the kind of assault from the old bill normally reserved for students or innocent bystanders. Kettling was followed by violence, all under the watchful eyes of uber-surveillance. At one point an officer attempted to pepper spray a guy in a wheelchair, and was only prevented from doing so by a colleague who thought that this might be going just a little bit too far. I know that the police read this blog (as this post demonstrates) so I’d just like to ask… Do you think that pepper-spraying the disabled is right or wrong? Please feel free to leave a comment.

Maybe the police were on their best behaviour because the eyes of the world were upon them. The demonstration may have drawn little (if any) coverage from the UK media, but there were news crews from a whole host of countries. I was interviewed by Dutch, Spanish and Iranian (!) TV, and that was nothing compared to the demands made of the event organisers. It would appear that the further you are from the Olympics, the clearer you can see them.

At the end of the rally, a number of activists involved in the No Sochi 2014 campaign spoke. They will be the next to feel the effects of the Olympics when the Winter Games make their way to Russia in two years time. The Olympic protest torch is passed on. I wish them well.

ps. On a personal note… A huge thanks to all those people who worked so tirelessly to put the demonstration together. In particular, thanks to David for his hospitality and the karaoke. Thanks to Jim for the chat – it’s always nice to meet a lefty with a good (i.e. my) sense of humour. And thanks to the female comrade whose name I never got but who bought me a can of fizzy sugar when all the chanting had left me spaced out!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Anti-Olympic Protest Works – The Berlin Experience

Say that you have a problem with the Olympics and an awful lot of people look at you as if you’ve just suggested a nationwide kitten and puppy massacre. How could anyone possibly be against something so pure and honest and good? This weekend will see hopefully thousands attend the demonstration in London against the corporate Olympics. I urge everyone that can make it to get to this event. The truth is that at various points over the years, often hidden away out of sight, there has been a long history of anti-Olympic protest. One such example is from Berlin in the early 1990s. It is a story in which the people of that city made the IOC feel so unwelcome as to ruin their government’s plans to stage the 2000 Olympics. It is a story that, sadly, far too few people have been told. But before we get to Berlin, we must go to Barcelona.

The Barcelona Games took place in 1992, the first Olympiad after history had been brought abruptly to an end. The fall of Communism meant that the Games were bereft of Cold War rivalry; the world was joined together in competition on the free market and in the sporting arena. Indeed, so fraternal were international relations that the XXV Olympiad was the first for twenty years not to be boycotted by any nation state. The goodwill and bonhomie extended even to those Spanish politicians who were traditionally the deadliest of enemies. The Socialist Mayor of Barcelona, Pascal Maragall, joined together with Juan Antonio Samaranch, the Spanish IOC president and one-time Franco loyalist, to welcome the Olympics in a display of collective amnesia. The Games would take place in the Montjuic Stadium where fifty-six years previous the assembled worker-athletes had gathered to take part in the Popular Olympics. A fascist uprising meant that the Games were over a day before they were meant to begin.

Those Barcelona Games of 1992 were, however, the Unity Olympics. It was even reflected in the medal table. The Unified Team – a collection of states from the former Soviet Union – finished first, the United States second. In third place, just three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was the team of the newly unified Germany. The 1992 Barcelona Olympics looked like a Pierre de Coubertin wet dream. Nation states, wedded to capitalism and secure in their identities, came together to share a love of competitive play. It was not just a symbol of unity, but also of reconciliation.

This spirit of togetherness would not have been lost on the German government who announced their intention to bid to stage the Olympics in 2000. To see the newly united country stage such a prestigious event at the dawn of a new millennium was certainly a genuine attraction as well as simultaneously being a huge ideological reinforcement. Eberhard Diepgen, Mayor of Berlin, was clear when he spoke to an IOC delegation: "Berlin wants to present an Olympics in the year 2000 that will reflect people's desire for peace and freedom… We want to show the new Germany: democratic, united and unpretentious." The IOC too saw the symbolic value of staging the Games in Berlin, and for a time the city was the frontrunner, ahead of Sydney, Beijing, Manchester and Istanbul. What neither the IOC nor the German government could have expected was that their plans would be scuppered by a wave of popular protest.

By September 1993 anti-Olympic feeling was so strong that a march through the centre of Berlin could attract more than 10,000 people. But this wasn’t the first act of defiance, nor the most militant. Three months earlier anti-Olympic activists had disrupted the opening of the IOC’s self-congratulatory shrine, the $65 million Olympic museum in Lausanne. Eggs were hurled at Samaranch and protesters shouted “No Olympics in Berlin” before twenty of them were led away and detained by police. Demonstrations and attacks on private property continued until it became clear that the IOC, ever desperate for good press, would be forced to look elsewhere. Despite staying in the race to host the Games, Berlin were never really in the running again, and finished a long way behind Sydney, the eventual winners. 

Why did the people of Berlin turn so against the Games? It seems fair to say that the price tag attached to staging the event was a major reason. One anti-Olympic statement read, "The people of Berlin do not favor mammoth projects which the power elite, supported by the police and media, plans and executes without our consent. The Government promises a great deal, but gives only to the rich." Activists also cited other negative effects on the city such as disruption and pollution. Sound familiar?

Later protest movements against staging the Olympics in Sydney, Athens and Vancouver were charactersied by how heavily they drew inspiration from the anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movement which began in Seattle in 1999. What is fascinating is that the movement in Berlin began not just before this time, but before the other great events that gave lie to Francis Fukuyama’s claim of the end of history – the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in 1994 and the public sector strikes in France in 1995. People power was alive and well in Berlin in 1993. It was as though the people of the German capital said, “We have already brought down the Berlin Wall. Why shouldn’t we stop the IOC?”

The Berlin experience is a timely reminder that anti-Olympic protest works. Here in the UK we may not be in a position to stop the country wasting billions of pounds on a sporting event at a time of terrible economic crisis, as our brothers and sisters in Berlin were able to do. But it remains the case that protest is necessary. It will show to the corporations that they cannot profiteer and bully without opposition. It will demonstrate to the IOC that not everybody buys into their phoney ideals and spin. And it sends a message to the ConDem government that no matter how much they bully and restrict our right to protest, people will always be prepared to stand up and be counted. I hate to quote Seb Coe – I really do – but we really do have “a once in a lifetime opportunity”. Be there this Saturday to say No Limos! No Logos! No Launchers! And be part of the demonstration against the corporate Olympics.