Tuesday, 15 April 2008

A Summer Of Suck: Glastonbury & The Olympics

Firstly, I must say I find it very interesting that Glastonbury tickets are selling so poorly. They’ve been on sale for what, one week, two weeks? I’ve even seen advertisements in the printed press for the event. I will postulate a theory as to why this is: Glastonbury has finally jumped the shark. From its roots as a hippy performance art festival, in recent years it has become more and more commercial, more and more pro capitalism (not a bad thing, but anathema to what it originally claimed to stand for) and less about love, freedom and all those other good things.

The ticket buying procedure has now become something akin to airport security, discouraging a lot of people from even bothering to try to get tickets. The price has risen astronomically, last year it was £154 (including “administrative” and P&P fees), making it hard to slot in amongst the other plethora of festivals (which are not exactly cheap in their own right), and the weather is routinely shit (which many people paint as “part of the experience” but is just a cheap cop out of having the balls to criticise the Glastonbury behemoth. No one likes spending five days knee deep in mud. Admit it). Add to all the above, the fact that Jay Z is headlining this year. The official party line (angrily delivered) from the Eavis camp is that they “took a risk”:

"The critics do not understand the Glastonbury's audience", she [Emily Eavis] continued.
"It is a bunch of really open-minded people, who come to the festival to learn and experience new things, new music, new food, new people, new politics and a whole range of new experiences.
"This is what, I hope, makes our festival special - Glastonbury is about more than just the music."

I fear it is in fact, the Eavis’ who do not understand Glastonbury’s audience. It’s all very well and good that they want to try new things, and “take risks” but when you paying £150+ for tickets (in a time when money and credit are not flowing like they once were), knowing that the weather will likely be either too hot or too wet you don’t necessarily want the organisers to be “taking risks”. You want something you know you’re going to enjoy.

Maybe the problem is with Jay-Z headlining, but the Eavis camp seem to be making the chronic mistake of telling their audience what they like and what they want. Glastonbury is not a hip hop festival. Have hip hop artists played? Yes. Have a lot of new bands and new sounds been exposed there? Yes. Have any of them ever been put in the headlining slot? No. And this may be the problem. Glastonbury’s inherently rock oriented crowd may not be happy with parting with £150+ to have the Saturday headliner be someone they don’t like. Don’t tell your audience, as Emily Eavis did; “There are plenty of other stages to pick from if you don’t like him” when he’s your headliner. Everyone should want to see the headliner, and have the feel good experience only certain acts can bring. Couple that with the weather and ticketing headaches, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get the faithful snapping up the large amount of tickets “just because it’s Glastonbury” and the casual buyer who usually goes based on who’s appearing thinking “Maybe I’ll wait for the full line up before I plonk down all that money, in such economically strained times.”

No business is bigger than its customer. The music industry has learnt it. The film industry has learnt it. The television industry has learnt it. Now maybe it’s Glastonbury’s turn. You give the audience what they want. Not what you tell them they want.

Secondly, is it not about time we stopped this ridiculous Olympic torch passing ceremony? News flash to the IOC: If you don’t want people protesting against China you shouldn’t have given the Olympics to such a repressive country in the first place.

The Olympic torch was started by everyone’s favourite Austrian terminator (no, not Arnold) Adolf Hitler. It was bought into being so it could glorify the Third Reich. Since then it’s been used at every Olympics – not that I can understand why – as a way of celebrating “the history” of the Games.

But if the IOC want to continue whining about people protesting along the route of its current trip then they need to scrap it all together. This wet, spineless, namby pamby organisation (you know, the one that couldn’t even manage to bring in an effective drugs policy) is still trying to impose draconian measures of censorship on both the public and the Olympic athletes, by saying that “politics has no place in sport” or “it’s sport that matters”. They have threatened to kick out any athlete that speaks out against China before or during the Games. The British Olympic Committee was forced to rescind a gagging order on British athletes to prevent them from even addressing the criticism. Why?

Let’s have a brief look at the history of the event:

1936: Berlin, Germany. Used as a propaganda tool for the Nazi party and the Aryan race (thank God for Jesse Owens).

1956: Melbourne, Australia. Boycotted by Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon in protest of the Israeli invasion of Egypt. The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland boycotted in protest of the Soviert Union’s invasion of Hungary.

1968: Mexico City, Mexico. Tommie Smith and John Carlos give the black power salute during the Star Spanlged Banner. Expelled from the Games. Students in Mexico City tried to make use of the media attention for their country to protest against the authoritarian character of the Mexican government. The Mexican government reacted with violence, culminating in the Tlatelolco Massacre of October 2 in which more than two hundred protesters were gunned down by government forces.

1972: Munich, Germany. Eleven Israeli atheletes are kidnapped and eventually murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Mossad hunts down and kills the terrorists over the next several years.

1976: Montral, Canada. Drug allegations against East Germany. 26 African countries boycott in protest of the New Zealand rugby team’s touring of South Africa. Taiwan is not allowed to compete because Canada will not recognise them as the Republic of China (who they are made to compete under the banner of).

1980: Moscow, Russia. The USA and 61 other countries boycott the games in protest of the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan (the same invasion that led to the United States sponsored arming and radicalisation of the Middle East. Thirty years later, Cheney and Rumsfeld still haven’t cleaned up the mess they helped make.)

1982: IOC accused of homophobia when it successfully sues the organisers of the Gay Olympics (now known as the Gay Games) to ban it from using the term “Olympics” in its name.

1984: Los Angeles, USA. In retaliation to the 1980 boycott, the USSR, East Germany, Cuba and 14 other countries boycott. First year since 1952 that China compete.

1988: Seoul, South Korea. In 1998, it becomes known that several IOC members had taken bribes from the organising committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, in exchange for a vote on the city at the election of the host city.

1996: Atlanta, USA. Bomb explodes at Centennial Olympic Park, killing two and injuring 111 others. The bomb was sent by Eric Rudolph Randolf, American domestic terrorist. (Though he was white and Christian, so the Government saw no need for a war on terror.)
2000: Sydney, Australia. Several medalists in weightlifting are disqualified due to doping offences.

2004: Athens, Greece. An Iranian judoka refused to compete in his heat against as Israeli judoka, due to Government policy that forbids their atheletes competing against Israeli atheletes in Olympic heats, semi-finals or finals.

IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch has been strongly criticised. Under his presidency, the Olympic Movement made great progress, but has been seen as autocratic and corrupt. Samaranch's ties with the Franco's regime in Spain and his long term as a president (21 years, until he was 81 years old) have also been points of critique.

So, I think it’s pretty clear to see that the Games has always been accompanied by poltical controversy. Only once has the IOC actually made comment or taken action against any kind of event – the black power salture in ’68. So why are they so vociferous in telling athletes and the public to shut up about China. Why have so few countries refused to comment on what is going on? Our own spineless dolt of a Prime Minister has remained mute. At least President Sarkozy has come out and said he will not attend the opening ceremonies, though that’s hardly as important as the French Olympic Team boycotting the event. So what’s going on?

Simple answer: BUSINESS. Who is the largest producer of goods in the world? China. Who imports vast amounts of produce from around the world? China. Who is buying oil, wood, coal, gas etc. at a geometric rate? China. Who is making the West very, very rich? China. It’s all politics that have caused the IOC have lost their nerve. They don’t want to rock the boat with the world’s newest superpower, especially when the contract they negotiated probably included a clause that would protect the Government from criticism. (You can bet your bottom dollar that any protests against Britain in four years (perhaps by Middle Eastern nations or anti-war protesters if this macho war mongering is still going on) will be met with Olympic silence though).

I hope athletes protest in China. I hope that the public does as well. I hope that people that claim to uphold the values of freedom of speech and the right to dissent, will use them. I hope people keep protesting along the torch route. I hope both athletes and spectators continue to float the wishes of the antiquated pushover that is the IOC, and show the world that they won’t be shut up by a bunch of archaic, poltical dinosaurs.

Human rights come first. Human dignity and decency come before sport. If the IOC can’t understand that, then maybe the whole concept of the Olympics should be put to bed.

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