Bread and Circuses in London

FEW OF US have been able to afford a seat at the London Olympics and those who do and then manage to struggle through the queues face another fleecing from the corporate caterers, determined to make the most of the monopolies they’ve paid for in the grounds.

The opening ceremony was certainly an entertaining tableau of history which made a passing nod to working people in a romp that spanned the centuries. Whether this makes the year’s sporting spectacular the “People’s Olympics” is another matter.

The Soviet Spartakiads and the great sporting festivals of the old people’s democracies in eastern Europe were genuine People’s Olympics with sporting champions and mass games drawn from the factories, farms and offices of socialism. But those days are sadly long gone except in China and Democratic Korea.

Today we can still admire the efforts of the British teams competing against the finest athletes in the world and we can also take some comfort in watching the achievements of the sportsmen and sportswomen from People’s China and the other people’s democracies this week. China has predictably taken an early lead in the medals stakes but even Democratic Korea has bagged three gold medals so far — a remarkable achievement for the land of Juché that demonstrates the DPR Korea’s long-standing commitment to health and sport under socialism.

A Zionist attempt to politicise the Games, by lobbying for a minute’s silence at the opening ceremony to honour the Israeli athletes killed during a Palestinian Black September attack at the Munich Olympics in 1972, was rejected as inappropriate by the International Olympic Committee.

This was also the view of Prime Minister, David Cameron and Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Cameron, who attended a commemorative event for the Israeli athletes at the Guildhall, said while it was important to remember what happened in 1972 planned memorial events were the proper way to do that. This was echoed by the head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee that is fielding four athletes in the London Games. Jibril Rajoub said: "Sport is a bridge for love, unification and for spreading peace among the nations. It must not be a cause for divisiveness and for the spreading of racism.”

That’s certainly the modern Olympic ideal that claims to inherit the tradition of the Greco-Roman Olympiads. Whether it was true then, in an age when slavery was the considered the norm and when the “games”, at least in Roman days, had a different meaning in the Colosseum, is a matter of opinion.

How true it is today is also debatable. At least the games were free in Roman times along with the food scattered amongst the crowd to keep them happy. The Romans called it “bread and circuses” and they were sponsored by the Roman elite as a way of distracting the slaves and the poor from their woes.

These days it’s the exact opposite. Nothing is free and the poor are virtually excluded by cost from all the live events. Seats cost an arm and a leg and the spectators pay through the nose for any food or drink available at the stadiums.

The Olympic ideal may still be true for many of the athletes and the millions who watch the events on TV in Britain and the rest of the world. But today there is little doubt that the Olympiad is seen as nothing more than a cash cow and a global trade fair by corporate business and the politicians who serve them.