A better Olympic legacy

In years gone by, the end of July might have marked the beginning of the “silly season” for the UK press.

Predictable trending at this time of year typically includes debates about hosepipe bans, commentaries on celebrity bikini preferences and on sport that is not football (although pictures of Wayne Rooney on the beach still feature) and then standard, tedious long-range snaps of the Prime Minister on holiday.

All of which mundane fodder is there for public consumption in 2012 however, connected increasingly as we are as global citizens, with social media tools in a constant whirl of change and upgrade, there is now much better access to actual “news” items from all corners of the planet.

News in which we can immerse ourselves, constantly, as readers, commentators, critics, campaigners.  Whilst we are now a community of 7 billion people, earth’s human “eco-system,” like never before, has the capabilty to include all voices, and all perspectives…

This summer, of course, the UK press is in a state of delirium. The London Olympics opens up shop on Friday (cue last minute scandal about security, confused bus drivers, corporate sponsorship crack downs, and sweatshops in China) and a sizeable chunk of the world will be following events over the coming weeks.

Here in Saigon, I wouldn’t say there was any noticeable Olympic mania unravelling.  Vietnam have eighteen competitors for this year’s tournament, having previously banked a humble, but respectable, two silver medals (taekwondo and weightlifting) since first entering in 1952.  Despite this, lunchtime talk in my office, at least, has yet to get on to the country’s prospects in London over the weeks to come.

In the UK though, countless words will be written about the Olympics, reams of photos taken, and twitter streams will no doubt reach unprecedented levels.

All of that, plus millions of once in a lifetime human interactions, endeavours, achievements and memories will be experienced – by competitors, spectators, and the giddy army of reporters, journalists and bloggers covering every conceivable angle.

Here’s an angle for you:

Working for an NGO as I do, in amongst this week’s other assorted development stories so far, I couldn’t help but fall off my chair upon reading the Guardian piece which featured new research, commissioned by the Tax Justice Network, highlighting that the world’s offshore, tax-free assets are worth over £13tn.  A staggering £6.3tn of which are owned by only 92,000 people – which equates to 0.001% of our planet’s population.

I remain in awe of these numbers.  In fact, am writing this post sat on the floor as have failed to get back up following said chair incident.

The figures involved in the bailout of the banks in 2008, and during subsequent years, cannot be underestimated in their incongruity when compared to the combined resources channeled into trying to solve the world’s social and environmental issues.

However, this latest data set soars above the rest in its twisted, ironic and rather pathetic indictment on the global state of play.

As the research demonstrates, it’s an indictment not all centred around the resource curse issues of extraction, nor the finessed juggling of the western hemisphere’s 21st century ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ high net worth individuals.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the elites of many countries have accumilated “so much secret offshore wealth, that it could pay off their countries’ debts many times over”.

What I can’t help thinking is that the Olympics – arguably the largest human franchise in existence – misses an incredible legacy opportunity, in terms of leveraging its unique platform, not just in the name of sport, but in the name of humanity.

This neat graphic (best viewed on ‘full screen’) represents just a fraction of what could be done to harness communications during the Olympics, but whets the appetite nonetheless.

Perhaps, over time, parity, more inclusive economic growth, societal equalities, true balance, will be realised in our world.

In the meantime, and starting with the UK, how does one best keep the collective interest and psyche tuned into reacting and responding to such preposterous wealth statistics and social injustices, as featured in this particular research?

For the next month at least – when licence payers will be subject to no less than three and a half hours of Gary Lineker every night, reviewing synchronised swimming duets and interviewing “our British hopes” – the competition for securing public interest in anything, is as tough as it could ever be.

I did come up with some quick suggestions for the powers-that-be to consider, but in truth am not sure of their practicality…

For example, I am not convinced BBC protocol would allow for the live broadcasting of the equivalent offshore assets held by of each of the countries as they are respectively introduced during Friday’s opening ceremony parade.  Nor would the creation of an 11th hour “Olympic participation tax” for all competing countries, which has to be paid using only untaxable funds, stand as a realistic and tenable policy.

All of which is a shame really, as that just leaves Plan C, namely the usurping of Lineker’s cosy evening slot by those commendable sporting pundits, Ang San Su Chi and the Dalai Lama.

I accept that the act of lighting the Olympic flame will not in fact instil a sense of world order and of peace (as it may once have been designed to do in ancient times), nor will anyone who watches the Games themselves become instantly more open and interested than they were last week in hearing about development issues.  It does remain, however, in my mind, too good an opportunity not to harness the coverage of the Games to its vast population demographic for a higher purpose.

Celebrating sprinting prowess, gymnastic elasticity and grunting hammer throwing strength is noble and good.  But when will viewers, voters, be ready to be as eagerly drawn in to discussions about food scarcity in West Africa, access to clean water in South Asia, or affordable healthcare for $2 a day earning households in Cambodia?

How many different iterations of such issues, and how many new skeletons must we uncover and brush back under the carpet, before the reality of the challenges facing so many of our fellow citizens actually sticks?

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