The Olympic marathon – can LOCOG be trusted in Greenwich?


Bad news for the East End as it’s confirmed the Olympic marathon route will ignore the streets of Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and Bow – instead of having a race which will end at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, organisers LOCOG have decided to have a course which loops through the City and Westminster, presumably to attract interest from international broadcasters.

We’re lucky in Greenwich to get the London Marathon through our streets each year – it’s a fantastic community event and I’m sure it would have been the same in 2012 for the East End. It’s an incredibly short-sighted decision by LOCOG which will impact on how people feel about the games for a long time – and it’s made me worried about what’s in store for Greenwich Park.

Because if LOCOG is going to disregard the feelings of the people who live right on the doorstep of the Olympic Stadium, can it really be trusted with Greenwich Park? The arrangements to scrutinise what’s happening in the park don’t feel particularly transparent – with only the usual suspects in the local amenity societies involved, and they’re not exactly open to any outside involvement, as I found to my cost when I tried to report on a meeting. Together with Greenwich Council’s apparent lack of interest in asking difficult questions of LOCOG – one councillor being accused of “playing to the gallery” when he tried to question what was happening – and my general Olympics-related optimism has all but evaporated.

The Olympics opposition group, NOGOE, hasn’t given up, and thankfully seems to have (mostly) given up the strident screeching that lost them a lot of sympathy in the run-up to the planning application. Their current newsletter raises some important questions on the issue of just how the park will be reinstated after the games, and on the weedkiller LOCOG reportedly planned to use.

While I’d like to see the park used as a venue, and hope it’s a success, I hope NOGOE keep up the pressure on LOCOG and Greenwich Council. Because if Seb Coe’s team is going to turn its back on the East End, then we certainly need to be watching them like hawks in Greenwich.

15 comments

  1. The new route takes in much spectacular tourist-attracting scenery.

    Come on, you can see why they chose this over a route that would involve non-descript terracing and tower blocks for much of the last few miles.

  2. Darryl, that’s not the point, is it. I wouldn’t nominate Trafalgar Road as a worthy route, either.

    Otter, do you seriously think Whitechapel-Stratford is comparable to this route? Mile End Road = Buckingham Palace, St James Park, The Mall and Trafalgar Square?

    Be realistic, people. They are using this route to advertise London.

  3. It’s a very Greenwich reaction – Area X loses out in something that will happen in Greenwich soon. When this fact is pointed out, the obvious reaction is: “But Area X is a dump!”

  4. I gotta agree with Steve that this is realpolitik. My hunch is that they threw the east end the marathon when all was rosy in the financial garden. Now we, and the games, are being squeezed, there was pressure to use it as a showcase for London. Get a few more tourist dollars/yen/euros.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if the IOC members did their recce and vetoed the gritty east London route for something more scenic. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are pace makers wearing Guardsman’s uniforms come 2012.

  5. Perhaps it is worth pointing out that in the current editions of the Pevsner Buildings of England, the entry for the borough of Tower Hamlets is the third largest after the City and Westminster and very much larger than any of the remaining London boroughs.

    Regarding advertising London, including the tourist sites is one thing, representing us only by the tourist sites quite another: misrepresentation.

  6. The tourist sites were also on the original route – this just repeats them.

    Realpolitik could have vetoed the use of Greenwich Park, of course.

  7. Darryl’s absolutely right: all the tourist stuff was getting showcased anyway and doesn’t really need to be featured twice. As Otter says, the original route was by no means all ‘grim’ – and in any event, by the final stretch of the marathon the attention tends to switch from the scenery to the runners. The decision is sickening, and really does cast doubt on the good faith of LOCOG towards London’s residents.

  8. I’ve watched a few Olympic marathons on TV and I can’t remember details of the surroundings of the route, just the runners. To me, the route itself is unimportant. I am a bit surprised that it doesn’t finish in the Olympic Stadium, though.

  9. A commentator on another site, I forget where now – might have been the Evening Standard – suggested that when viewing on tv a marathon run through the East End – past the halal food-outlets and kebab shops – the global audience might wonder if this Olympic event was being held in Bangladesh. I love London’s multi-culturalism but perhaps BMW complained that this would dilute their “brand”; that would give LOCOG the cold sweats.

    BMW are going to be the “Olympic family” vehicle. What with the catering being wholly by Coca-Cola and McDonalds, it’s remarkable how few if any British products are going to improve their “market positioning” through the Olympics. Rather the reverse, really.

  10. […] Perhaps there’s a party political aspect to this too – with a Tory government and a Tory mayor asserting themselves over the games, leaders of Labour fiefdoms like the Olympic boroughs are finding themselves squeezed out. After years of being at the forefront, that’s got to be hard to take. Maybe those “secret deals” were with Boris? Tower Hamlets has already found itself out on the cold, with the shabby case of the Olympic marathon, which raised earlier questions about LOCOG’s trustworthiness. […]

  11. Agree totally, am also disappointed as the very essence of an olympic marathon is that, in most cases (Athens excepted) it finishes with a lap of the olympic stadium. For me that is one of the highlights of the games. As with the others above, I don’t think it was changed for additional shots of West London rather I think it was unease against going through the streets of East London together with a perceived lack of control with runners through these areas. (I was at Stratford to watch the Chinese torch relay… but it came through on a bus!!!).

    I also think the Olympic site doesn’t really feel like an extension of East London – rather it seems like a corporate (read West London) enclave that happens to be near Stratford. Of course the organisers are paranoid about security, rightly so – but it still feels a bit alien. It will be interesting to see how integrated the site becomes with East London proper after the games. The original plan was to be able to lock off access to Stratford in the evenings(!) That was quickly and quietly shelved – nonetheless the site is very much self contained so I suspect it’ll feel more like Canary Wharf than East London for some time to come.

    Don’t get me wrong – I think the olympics in London are fantastic and have provided some lovely buildings and general sporting enthusiasm. But I still think East Londoners are treated a little bit condescendingly by the organisers who still don’t really appreciate that much of the vitality, creativity and rawness of London are to be found in the east. And moreover (and recently compounded by the riots) they have little real trust in the diversity of people in this area. But if no trust is given, no trust is reciprocated…

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