The recent decision to allow the Olympic Flame to travel through Albert Square, the setting for the BBC's fictional soap opera EastEnders, is a perfect representation of the London 2012 Olympic ethos. EastEnders and Albert Square are a fictional creation based in Borehamwood, a posh area in Hertfordshire that has no connection to the East End of London, where the drama is set. The London 2012 Olympics is increasingly becoming a drama created by executives located elsewhere (Canary Wharf) that has no connection to the area in which it is set.
The Olympic Flame that passes through the fictional East End borough of Walford will not even be the true Olympic Flame, at least as far as tradition dictates. London 2012 will represent the first time that the Olympic Torch Relay does not pass from the previous host city to the new host city on foot, the idea being to pass the symbolic 'Olympic Spirit' from city to city in the form of fire. The International Olympic Committee banned Olympic Torch relays following hijacking of the Torch before the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Now I know all of this is supposed to be a bit of fun, but London 2012 organisers seem blind to the fact that forging links between a fictional soap opera and an Olympic Games that was originally billed as being for the East End of London could appear patronising. Firstly, London Olympic organisers announced that London's Olympic Park would share the E20 postcode of fictional Albert Square (why not E2012?). Now they are granting the privilege of featuring the flame to a soap opera that turned down the chance to relocate to the Olympic Park, slap bang in the middle of the area the soap is supposed to represent.
"There was the chance for the BBC to show genuine commitment to the East End - an area it has harvested for audiences for decades", said London Mayor Boris Johnson. "I'm astonished that the boss class don't see the obvious advantages of rooting a popular drama in an area it claims to portray". Johnson's sentiment is correct, yet his comments are almost comically ironic when you consider that London 2012 organisers have done much the same thing by taking many key Olympic events away from East London. After Badminton and Rhythmic Gymnastics were taken away from the East End, the final straw came last year, when London Boroughs sought to take legal action against the organisers of London 2012 for moving the marathon route from East London to finish on The Mall in central London, making the 2012 marathon the first in Olympic history not to finish in the Olympic stadium. London 2012 had just appointed the organisers of the London Marathon to plan the route. Guess where the London Marathon finishes? Road cycling will also not come anywhere near East London…I could go on, but I don't want you to get too bored…
London 2012 Chair Seb Coe welcomed the move. "Today's announcement is a great addition to the Olympic Torch Relay Route", he said. "I'm sure the people of Walford will now start planning their celebrations to welcome the Flame to Albert Square". They won't, because they don't exist, and neither does the connection between the London 2012 Olympics and improving the lives of people in the East End. If you search on the internet for 'London 2012 Games making a difference in East London', the top link is a story about how volunteers from East London helped clean up rivers within the Olympic Park for free. They will continue to help by spending money they don't have in the vast Westfield shopping complex in Stratford (the company could not even bring itself to change its name to Eastfield…) and are supposed not to notice that few people from the Olympic Boroughs have actually been given jobs on the site.
I have nothing against London hosting the Olympics, but it's time to drop the pretence that this is about improving the lives of people in London and admit that it's an exercise in making money. However, I expect that the fiction will continue long after the Games are over.