Photo: By cozymax on Flickr
It was bad luck for the Olympics organisers that their test events last weekend were held on one of the dreariest, greyest, coldest May days most of us can remember. It was even worse luck if you hadn’t eaten before you arrived.I was hoping to be impressed by the Olympic Park. Instead, we shivered on the windswept tarmac of one of the thoroughfares (it really is huge), whose architectural inspiration evidently came from a Tesco car park. The queues for everything were enormous. And, after waiting 20 minutes, I parted with £4.80 for two coffees. And none of that fancy cappuccino or latte. No, it was a plain filter coffee of the type where you’d think £1 was having a laugh. A friend who went to the evening event at the main stadium could only find a sloppy curry in a cardboard box, but at more than £5 he wasn’t tempted.
The security staff at the gates, who, it has to be said, were fast and thorough, rooted out all those evil plastic bottles containing fluid. So in the hot and sultry days of July and August (we can but hope) it will be £1.60 for a bottle of water once you’re on the other side.
The food and beverage “offering” must have been devised by the same people who dreamed up the pricing policy at Disneyland or Alton Towers, but with bells on. Get people through the doors, then extract as much cash as possible, safe in the knowledge it’s miles back to the entrance and you probably won’t be let back in anyway. A hot dog? £5.90. Two bags of crisps? £3. A muffin and a cookie? £5.
The security guards are under orders to confiscate any food deemed to be “excessive”. I’d consider a 950-calorie burger and chips in the supersize on-site McDonald’s excessive, but that’s not what the Olympics committee has in mind. After all, McDonald’s has paid, according to reports, upwards of $100m (£62m) to be the “official sponsor, retail food services”, and no other brand gets a look in. No. “Excessive” would be a local family bringing in a cool-box of their home-cooked food.
I’m told the Olympic Park will go into lockdown now the test events are over. Danny Boyle’s £27m opening extravaganza, themed around the “Isles of Wonder”, will start taking shape, and we must hope it bears no resemblance to the entertainment provided last Saturday. A colleague who attended the event, compered by Vernon Kay and Gabby Logan, described it as a “woefully bad, sub-It’s A Knockout” from which thousands of spectators left early.
The organisers no doubt patted themselves on the backs over the success of the test events. Judged by the basics of getting people in and out, ticketing and security, it was; judged by the quality of the sporting events – I watched Great Britain draw 3-3 with world no 1-ranked Australia in the men’s hockey – then we have superb sporting moments to look forward to. I actually really want the London Olympics to succeed. But the organisers only have 76 days to clear the building debris that litters the park, junk the ugly temporary (one hopes) railings and bollards, and improve the landscaping.
The long-held perception by many people abroad, is that London is rainy and overpriced, with dreadful food. In fact, it rains less in London than in either Paris or New York. But the Olympic organisers appear to be doing their best to confirm the other stereotypes.
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