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Gift for Greece
January/February 2012

 
Out to dry: Gypsies hang up their washing at Athens's 2004 Olympic site

The Greeks know a thing or two about gifts, but they would scarcely resist a generous gesture, offered in their hour of need. It so happens that their difficulty is London's opportunity. We should send the Olympic Games home. 

All the facilities must still be there in Athens, unless some foreign bank has foreclosed on them. They were run up for the Games, which were held there quite recently — eight years ago — and they will only need a lick of paint and a touch of imagination. The hottest ticket of all will be beach volleyball on the Acropolis. That will put the Parthenon in its place.

The Games will be a boost for the country's stricken economy, or so the Greeks will be told. That was not how the sums worked out last time, though they were too busy fiddling their way into the euro to notice. The backpackers came but the spenders stayed away. This time the winners would be the official freeloaders, with the roads cleared before them and their hosts left to pick up the bills. 

Back in London, the economy has by now had almost all the boosts it was likely to get. We were told that everything had to be got ready for the Olympics — the railways, the roads, and of course the pleasure-domes in the Lea Valley. So the investment was made and the infrastructure is there, but the operating costs are still to come, and are already soaring, with security setting the pace. To no one's surprise, the National Audit Office now warns that a £9 billion budget may be not be sufficient. 

Next will come the cost of trying to run London's normal economy under Olympic conditions, when even getting in to work will be a losing struggle. Some may not try very hard, and others will be told not to bother.  Some of London's familiar businesses may think that the struggle will be too much for their customers. Theatres, it is now reported, are not taking bookings for the two or three weeks when the Games are on. Other losers will follow.

We could lift all this deadweight of cost from our shoulders quite simply, by returning the Games to the Greeks. This might disappoint those Londoners who had planned to let their houses and go off on holiday — perhaps to Athens? — but they would be in a minority, and their sacrifice would be applauded. Another appropriate gesture would be to push the Olympic flame through the gates of Athens in a wooden horse.

 
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