London Not Gripped by Olympic Fever
At Trafalgar Square, in the heart of the city, the official Olympic countdown clock gets a steady stream of people posing for pictures. But most of them are foreign tourists.
Many Londoners appear indifferent, worried or actually hostile toward the Games.
"I think it is a waste of money," declared Dave Thomas, a man passing through the Square. "All the money that is being wasted could have been spent on something else.”
Jessica, a young woman on crowded Oxford Street was worried about her shopping trips during the Olympics. “It is already busy in London,” she said. “Imagine when the Olympics are here. Imagine how busy it is going to be everywhere. Nobody is going to be able to get around.”
And a woman named Amanda said she is not caught up in the Olympic spirit partly because she doesn’t like the event’s souvenirs. “The stuff they have designed to support the Olympics, they’re absolutely hideous,” she said. “The Olympic logo thing is a complete and utter farce. And those mascot toys that they’ve got, I have not met anyone who thinks they are not completely ridiculous.”
Those Olympics items range in price from just a few dollars to hundreds. And they can be hard to find. So far, they are only available at licensed shops and in official London 2012 stores, mainly at transport hubs.
Olympics merchandising chief Simon Lilley says that is part of the Games’ strategy. “I think the key thing is we are focusing on the quality of distribution,” he said. “So we want them in the right places, putting our brand in the right way. So, I think we have got selective distribution. And I think this will build and build as we move towards the Games.”
Other London 2012 officials like British Olympic gold medalist Jonathan Edwards, who is now a member of the Organizing Committee, believe the enthusiasm will build along with the sales of the souvenirs.
“When you are involved within the Olympic and Paralympic world, it feels like that is everything," he said in a post-Committee meeting interview. " But for people out in the streets, it is kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, the Olympics, that is in the summer and I will, kind of, engage with it when it is actually here.’”
And the Olympics have had another event vying for attention. These days, many people in Britain are more focused on celebrations marking 60 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, which culminate with a two-day holiday in early June.
The price tag of the Games also saps some people’s enthusiasm. Estimates range from the official figure of about $20 billion up to $40 billion or more.
But there are some are getting excited about the Olympics. At a visitors’ center overlooking the Olympic Park, a man named Bart, who lives 30 kilometers from the site, said he is not worried about the cost. “I think that people will forget the cost,” he said. “It is the atmosphere and the new life that it brings that people value.”
A woman named Fiona, who was cycling past the visitors’ center, cautioned against listening to people who complain about the cost, inconvenience, security risks and other potentially troublesome aspects of the Games. “I think people do like to moan, don’t they," she noted. “That is their default position. They like to moan. So let them moan. And I am quite happy about it.”
Back on Oxford Street, a teenaged student named Jordan said there may be some problems during the games, but he is taking a long view. “I think overall it’s cool," he said. “I am going to look back on it and say, yeah, I was in London when the Olympics happened.”
That is the attitude Olympics officials are hoping for, but many Londoners are not there yet.