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The Olympic Imperative


In the next issue of the LRB, Iain Sinclair will be writing about Olympic fallout. Here he is in 2008, on the razing of East London to make way for the park:

The scam of scams was always the Olympics: Berlin in 1936 to Beijing in 2008. Engines of regeneration. Orgies of lachrymose nationalism. War by other means. Warrior-athletes watched, from behind dark glasses, by men in suits and uniforms. The pharmaceutical frontline. Rogue Californian chemists running their eye-popping, vein-clustered, vest-stripping robots against degendered state laboratory freaks. Bearded ladies and teenage girls who never have periods. Medals returned by disgraced drug cheats to be passed on to others who weren’t caught, that time. The Millennium Dome fiasco was a low-rent rehearsal. The holy grail for blue-sky thinkers was the sport-transcends-politics Olympiad, the five-hooped golden handcuffs, the smoke rings behind which deals could be done for casinos and malls: with corporate sponsorship, flag-waving and infinitely elastic budgets (any challenge an act of naysaying treason)…

In boroughs affected by this 2012 game-show rabies – long-established businesses closed down, travellers expelled from edgeland settlements, allotment holders turned out – there were meetings, protests, consultations. As soon as the Olympic Park was enclosed, and therefore defined, loss quantified, the fence around the site became a symbol for opposition and the focus for discussion groups, such as the seminar convened by PNUK (Planners Network UK) and held at the boxing club in the old Limehouse Town Hall. I attended this public debate and heard the Hackney solicitor Bill Parry-Davies describe, quietly, remorselessly, how, after a series of mysterious fires, Dalston Lane had lost its Victorian theatre and sections of Georgian terrace, facilitating the new transport hub that would service the vital axes, south to the City, east to the Olympic Park. ‘In two houses on Dalston Lane,’ Parry-Davies told us, ‘there were squatters. A couple of guys came to the back door and said, “You’d better get out. Now.” Two days later the houses burned down.’ Nothing slows the momentum, the Olympic imperative.

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