After seven years of preparation, the Olympics have finally arrived in London. But not everyone is filled with pride as the world’s best athletes make their mark in the British capital. Instead, many are choosing to avoid the Games at all costs.
“People look at the streets, the congestion, and the charges that there might be, particularly around the London area, and they’re looking to leave the city earlier,” said the managing director of Travelex, Anthony Wagerman.
One third of people traveling this summer will head off during the Games, choosing to leave the crowds behind.
For many who decide to stay closer to home, the Games will be a television-only event. Millions of Britons were disappointed when they didn’t receive Olympic tickets in the country’s lottery. And those tickets that still remain are being sold privately, to corporate sponsors.
“This is an inevitable result of the way the Games are done, primarily for the interest of the rich. The Olympics are the epitome of some of the worst things in the world at the moment – the removal of resources from poor people and giving it to rich people,” said Albert Beale, spokesperson for the Counter-Olympics Network.
It’s a tale of two extremes. While large corporations benefit from the Games, smaller businesses are forbidden from doing so.
Local shops are only allowed to sell licensed Olympic merchandise. Any store found selling unofficial products containing the words “Olympic,” “gold,” or “summer” could face a fine of up to US$31,000.
Obtaining permission to carry licensed merchandise requires developing an account with official sponsors – which simply isn’t an option for local stallholders.
“It’s too much of a risk. We’re a really small business. We can’t open accounts with these huge companies. Adidas wants thousands to open an account. We’d love to, but we’ll make do,” a local stallholder told RT’s Laura Smith.
Other rules that have been met with opposition include forbidding London’s famous black taxis from using traffic lanes designated only for athletes and officials.
The decision has prompted cab drivers to stage a demonstration in the city center, just hours before tonight’s opening ceremony.
The protest, which will take place at Hyde Park Corner, will be the third demonstration in just 10 days.
The first protest brought traffic to a halt outside the Houses of Parliament. Taxi drivers then gathered on Tower Bridge for the second demonstration, with one man diving into the River Thames.
For more on London’s preparation for the Olympic Games, watch Laura Smith’s report.