Ticketing shambles shames the Games

So far, so…er, iffy. Though die-hard loyalists will doubtless disagree, that’s probably a balanced, overall appraisal of the 2012 Olympics to date, with ticketing issues coming in for withering criticism, despite Seb Coe huffily dismissing all naysayers.

Team GB might have notched up only two medals in as many days (a silver and bronze, which leaves us trailing at 16th, behind Georgia, North Korea and Hungary), but it’s early doors and we’ll improve.

However, whatever the medal final tally, few will forget Danny Boyle’s quirky and uber-imaginative opening ceremony, which, on its own, was worthy of a stack of golds.

Crowns off, too, to The Queen, whose cameo role in it deserves a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for allowing herself to be quite literally ‘sent up’ (and I was particularly amused by Rod Liddle’s Sunday Times column, which carried a photo of a beaming Prince Charles with the quote-bubble, ‘Getting Mummy to jump out of a helicopter at 1,000 ft was my idea.’)

My main gripe (see previous post) is that far from being the People’s Games, this is turning into a corporate junket, spawning yet another ticketing fiasco and casting a shadow on the International Olympic Committee’s thin-skinned, heavy-handed insensitivity.

That the IOC has become so ultra-protectionist over its logo a humble donut/bagel seller was rapped for displaying five, interlocking, coloured rings in his shop window speaks volumes about how money-driven the governing body is.

And try using an ATM in the Games park with a credit card that isn’t a certain sponsor’s brand. ‘Proud to accept only Visa’ say signs over every cash dispenser, much to the ire of holders of other plastic.

Yes, I know, the IOC needs cash to exist, but it’s hardly a charity case. And it will cash in handsomely on the London extravaganza – to the tune of £700M, if reports are correct – and, so long as its copyright isn’t being cynically ripped off, a little light-touch policing of it that recognises the British public’s enthusiasm for the Games and patriotism wouldn’t go amiss.

The arch cynicism, in fact, mainly stems from sponsors and delegates of the ‘Olympic Family’ (or, to re-use Roy Keane’s famous euphemism: the ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade), whose no-shows are making a mockery of some competitions.

SPOT THE CROWD: A smattering of spectators at one Olympic venue – photo: http://www.morethanthegames.co.uk

Hence we see great, gaping gaps in the grandstands for events like the swimming – where the public have to pay up to £400 for the privilege of a seat – so a rent-a-crowd of uniformed squaddies, teachers and students needs to be drafted in to fill them.

One way or another, ticketing has been a serial blight on these Games and whatever Coe contends, the public will rightly demand an inquest on LOCOG, the London organising committee’s handling of the seats-for-sale shambles.

Why, for instance, did the ticketing website list the opening archery event at Lord’s Cricket Ground as ‘ticketless’?  Hundreds turned up, expecting free entry, only to be told ‘ticketless’ meant it was closed to spectators.

Meanwhile, though no fan of The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, I sympathise with her incredulity when she reported that seats for herself and her grandson at the opening ceremony would have set her back over £1,800.

Even the families of competitors are being snubbed at half-empty venues. As the Daily Mail reported this morning:-

Parents and friends of swimmers are said to have been refused entry to the aquatics centre, while relatives of tennis players have been unable to see matches at Wimbledon.

Similar problems have been reported at Eton Dorney for the rowing and the ExCel boxing venue, where parents have only been allowed entry after drawn-out negotiations.

Details of the mix-up emerged as organisers began handing school children front-row seats in a desperate bid to fill venues.

Organisers LOCOG revealed today that it had also taken some 3,000 Olympics tickets from international sporting federations and put them ‘back in the pot’ to be bought by members of the public.

London Mayor Boris Johnson says there had been discussion on ‘how to crack the ticketing problem’ when ministers met in the Cabinet Office this morning.

After the G4S security cock-up and the pre-Games ticket sales folly, the IOC and LOCOG appear barely credible chatelaines of their own Games if, once again, it falls to government to sort out an Olympic crisis.

Are Hizbollah terrorists? No, just a bunch of cuddly social workers, says the EU

It’s a well-known fact one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. These conflicting views hinge on one determinant: Who they attack (if it’s someone else, they are simply dubbed ‘militants’; if it you, your country and its innocent populace, they’re branded ‘terrorists’).

Thus, unless you’re the BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times or any branch of the hand-wringing, Lefty-liberalism apologists union, such groups as Al-Qaeda and all its copycat franchises, the IRA (now in the guise of the Real or Continuity spinoffs), the Basque nationalists’ slaughter squad of ETA and Hamas were or are broadly regarded as ‘terrorists’ by most in the civilised world.

However, according to the latest dictum from the European Union, Hizbollah is merely a Shia Muslim political party in Lebanon, magnanimously community-spirited with an extensive social services network and, of course, the obligatory ‘self-defensive’ military wing, which can be a tad ‘militant’ on the odd occasion.

That it hijacked control of Lebanon at the point of an AK47 and deliberately provoked a war with Israel is of no consequence. Neither are the following Hizbollah acts:-

  • The 1983 US Embassy bombing in Beirut, which killed 63 people, including American government officials and eight senior CIA agents.
  • The 1983 Beiruit Barracks attacks in Beirut – the deadliest terrorist assault on a US target prior to 9/11 – which killed 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers and wounded over 100 others.
  • The 1985 hijacking of of TWA Flight 847
  • The 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires, which killed 80 and injured over 300.
  • The indictment of Hizbollah leaders by a United Nations tribunal for the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s democratically-elected Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.
  • The attempted 2009 attack on Egyptian and Israeli targets, foiled by Egyptian security (with similar incidents in Thailand and elsewhere this year).
  • The murder of six people at a Bulgarian tourist resort airport two weeks ago by a Hizbollah-dispatched suicide bomber, at the behest of its puppet-masters in Teheran

ON THE MARCH: Hizbollah ‘social workers’ en route to doing good works

Let’s forget, too, Hizbollah deliberately provoked a war with Israel by murdering and kidnapping Israeli soldiers on Israel’s side of the border and that it a) Persecutes Christians and other minorities in Lebanon; b) Acts as Iran’s political and military proxy in the region; c) Has a stockpile of at least 40,000 high-tech rockets and a private army; and d) Props up Hamas – which is designated a ‘terrorist’ organisation by the UN – with funds and weaponry, again helpfully provided by their bloodthirsty brethren in Iran.

No, Hizbollah, according to the EU, is still just a cuddly, self-help mob, with the best possible intentions. And any fears that it will somehow gain control of Syria’s arsenal of nerve gases when the Assad tyranny is toppled are greatly exaggerated.

Meanwhile, that the US, Canada and Britain regarded it as a ‘terrorist’ group is merely an aberration on the part of hostile countries, who don’t really understand Hizbollah’s benign intentions.

‘There is no consensus for putting Hizbollah on the list of terrorist organisations,’ insisted Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Helpfully, he added with naïve understatement – just in case anyone was under some silly misapprehension – Hizbollah was ‘active in Lebanese politics.’

Clearly, EU foreign policy mirrors its purblind intransigence to fixing the Euro fiasco and one can only but wonder which part of Planet Zog the batty Eurocrats inhabit.

Wham, bam, thank you ma’am – now I’m off for a good kip

If you’re a fan of Creationism, then the Good Lord goofed somewhat when he took one of Adam’s ribs and made Eve. Contrarily, if you subscribe to Darwin’s theory of evolution and survival of the fittest, then it’s all down to science.

What I’m referring to, of course, is post-coital indifference…or, to put it bluntly, why guys want to go to sleep after love-making, while gals demand cooing pillow-talk, further gyrating and eternal gratitude for their self-sacrifice.

Apparently, however, there’s a perfectly reasonable biological explanation for this behaviour.

Apart from the obvious fact – e.g. we blokes do most of the work, grunting and grinding our way to sweaty climaxes while women lay back and think of the Empire – new evidence points to the irrefutable conclusion that the male brain works on a different premise to that of women (though the knowledge that blokes have brains might comes as a shock to some members of the female persuasion).

A study by French scientists – haven’t the French got better things to do nowadays than remain obsessed with l’amour? – reveals men’s sexual desire switches off after orgasm and he experiences a ‘refractory period’ and cannot be re-aroused.

WOULD YOU ADAM & EVE IT! Sex has different side effects on men and women

In technical terms, a surge of chemicals such as oxytocin and serotonin – which can have a powerful, sleep-inducing effect – are released and our cingulate cortex and amygdala (whatever they are) cease functioning. So, in rather base terms, once we come, we tend to go.

On the other hand women’s cravings continue unabated (‘The saucy, little devils’ – Ed) and are thus left feeling a tad insecure, unloved, unfulfilled and unappreciated.

Furthermore, because men typically have higher muscle density than women, research shows the blood rush after climax depletes the muscles of energy-producing glycogen and we become more fatigued after sex (as I said earlier: remember who does most of the work).

So, unsurprisingly, in a survey, 80% per cent of men said they felt able to drift off to the Land of Nod without any problems after making love, compared with just 46% of women.

The same survey also found 48% of men had actually fallen asleep during the sex act itself, but let’s forget about that stat, since it’s likely to be a bone of contention in many boudoirs.

So, ladies, before you get dolled up in your stockings, suspenders, G-strings and negligees, then lead the conversation round to having an early night with a bottle of bubbly by the candle-lit bedside, I suggest you invest in a good book.

E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey would seem a likely contender.

Meanwhile, if you’ll excuse me – yawn, yawn – I feel a little nap coming on…

As Spain goes down the drain, the pain is getting worse

Geographically, Mallorca is Spanish, but it isn’t typical of Spain. It’s rather like comparing Bournemouth to Barnsley (apologies to Tykes– no insult intended, just an allusion to the widening disparity in lifestyles).

We’ve had the occasional, drum-banging, but peaceful march by understandably disgruntled trade unionists through Palma, but nothing like the bloody punch-ups with cops in Madrid and Barcelona – at least so far.

But even here, in this Mediterranean Garden of Eden, the portents are ominous. And they will worsen swiftly, following Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s new pronouncement that IVA (Spanish VAT) will rise from 18 to 21%, pensions and social benefits will be eviscerated and there’ll be a monster fire-sale of state assets, like airports and railways.

Small, telltale signs of a year ago are ballooning into daily evidence of how – as in Greece – the middle classes are feeling the pinch, too, not just the rising tide of jobless.

Each morning and afternoon a polished Seat Leon of recent vintage pulls up outside the basuras (communal dustbins found on every street corner) across the way and a man and his teenage son, both decently clad, climb inside and forage. I long stopped being shocked at the image of two pairs of designer trainers sticking up or how their scavenged treasure is forensically examined, before being bagged and placed in the car’s boot.

Supermarkets, too, are doing their bit. Many have containers at the exits, asking shoppers to donate an item to those on the breadline. And, instead of destroying foodstuffs beyond their sell-by dates, after closing time managers leave them somewhere handy to be picked up by the hungry.

Every little helps, to borrow Tesco’s slogan.

RIOT SQUAD: Spanish police in action against anti-austerity demonstrators

Meanwhile, the boom of up to two years ago in holiday home sales has inevitably gone into tailspin. As one agent told me, ‘Who’s going to buy when the big risk is Spain will quit the euro, return to the peseta and the government will devalue it by 30%?’

Shops, too, are doing a roar-less trade, though the bi-annual rebajas (the sales) began last week. Extending opening times has only boosted the cost of electricity, powering the aircon systems, while the tills remain stubbornly silent. Only business in the charity shops is brisk.

And, as youth unemployment inexorably edges beyond 50%, kids with any brains are quitting, hoping the grass in Britain, Canada or Germany is greener. It’s threatening to reprise the exodus from Ireland, after the great potato famine.

Even my physio, born and bred in Mallorca, is thinking of emigrating. He says his Dutch wife, who works in a bank, is on the verge of a breakdown, since her harrowing job now is to repossess homes where the borrower has defaulted on a mortgage. Each night she returns home in tears.

None other than the uber-rich are escaping the vice of austerity. Despite the rise in the £s value against the euro, many expats talk of a reluctant return to swampy Blighty or of eschewing the fancy supermarket in El Cortes Ingles (our version of John Lewis) for doing the weekly shop at Lidl.

Few, but the seriously deranged, think Spain will escape the squeeze for a decade or more and even fanatical Europhiles are beginning to weigh the possibilities of dumping the accursed euro.

It might mean a short, sharp financial lashing for maybe three years, but at least the country will be independent again and spared death by a thousand cuts being inflicted by their former amigos in the Eurozone.

If the people can see the merits in this, why can’t the politicians?

Good Lords! If the Upper Chamber ain’t broke, why fix it?

Some things work, despite confounding all expectation and logic. And, in its present manifestation, one is Britain’s so-called Upper Chamber – or ‘The Other Place’, as MPs refer to it with quaint arcaneness – the House of Lords.

Long gone are the days when it was an exclusive club for geriatric members of the aristocracy, a God’s waiting room for barons of the shires to discuss pig breeding, the merits of single malt whisky, the high cost of maintaining a dominatrix and how the peasants were revolting, if only in terms of pong.

The hereditary dukes, earls, viscounts, etc and et al, were given the heave-ho from the red benches in 1999, leaving a rump of 92 nobs to be ‘working peers’ along with an assortment of odds and sods – generally ex-ministers and MPs, past their use-by dates – who’d been appointed life lordships.

The Lords’ job was to act as a check and balance to the Commons, to scrutinise Bills before they became law, iron out wrinkles in them and put the handbrake on government attempts to make a twerp of itself. And, though their remit is limited, for most practical purposes they’ve made a pretty decent fist of it.

For reasons claimed to be ‘furthering democracy’ the Liberals and their reincarnation, the Lib-Dems, have, for over a century, had a maniacal obsession with reforming the Lords or, better still, abolishing it in favour of an elected Senate. This, history-lovers may feel, is a bit rich, coming from a party whose greater leader, Lloyd George, made a fortune flogging aristocractic handles.

So, at a critical time when the world’s finances are going to Hades in a handcart and half the country is a swimming pool, today – as yesterday – the Commons expends valuable time and energy debating reform of the Upper Chamber, a subject we in the vulgar hoi polloi care as much about as blindfold bog-snorkelling.

CHAMBER OF CHANGE? It will be if the Lib-Dems have their way

Not wishing to prejudge the vote, a rumoured revolt of up to 90 Tory backbenchers will join Labour and naysay the reform proposal – mainly that 80% of a new House of Lords will be elected (by who – who only know?) – and kill it dead, at least until the next time.

Because, if they succeed, it will scupper Nick Clegg’s earnest desire to usher in proportional representation (PR) via the back-door, since that is what the Lib-Dems have in mind for a reformed Lords.

Having failed to convince the Great British electorate in a 2011 referendum that AV (the alternative vote) is more equitable than a transparent, uncomplicated, first-past-the-post election system, Tricky Nicky is at it again, this time seeking to use the Lords as a template to usher in PR.

Politically speaking, I suppose you can’t blame him for trying. Because any form of PR favours mini parties, who can bank on seats round the Cabinet table, since the probability is that future General Elections will produce hung parliaments, so the Lib-Dems will hold a balance of power disproportionate to their votes (as they do now in the cobbled-together Tory-led coalition).

However much its supporters claim that PR is ‘more democratic’ it plainly isn’t, as many countries who’ve tried it discovered to their cost. It generally produces weaker government, giving rump parties, like Clegg’s ‘yellow-ties’, a whip-hand the electorate never envisaged.

That’s why I hope the rebels succeed tonight in overturning this Lords Reform Bill.

The Upper Chamber may not be perfect and it is, indeed, overloaded with ermined members (over 800 of them). But what threatens to replace it is hardly likely to be an improvement.

In other words, if it ain’t broken, why fix it?

Andy is a Great Brit even in defeat, but where are the others?

There are few sport that, over the years, £ for £ and player for player, have received more grants, bursaries and donations – official (from governmental-supported sources, like Sport England) or otherwise (private benefactors) – than tennis.

Yet Britain still hasn’t produced a Wimbledon’s men’s singles champion since 1938, Andy Murray being the latest Great Might Hope to see his and the nation’s dreams dashed on the hallowed lawns of SW19.

Following the shock defeats of Djokovic and Nadal and against an allegedly ageing Roger Federer – 30 being the tennis equivalent of a biblical three-score-and-ten for mere mortals – Murray was well hyped to become the first home-grown player to succeed Fred Perry.

At least the braveheart Scot – if he’d actually beaten Federer, the English would have elevated Andy to the status of British – had the grit and gumption to win the first set, could have won the second, before being steamrolled to oblivion by the elegant, artful and erudite Swiss warrior.

The natural order was restored, despite Federer’s unaccustomed litany of unforced errors – well into double figures for a player normally so reliable in his choice and execution of shots, you can count his miss-hits throughout a match on one hand.

BEATEN NOT BOWED: Murray leaves Wimbledon with a horde of new fans

Yet, there was one aspect of Murray’s appearance in Sunday’s final that was a winner: his tearful, lump-in-the-throat valediction at the end that produced a groundswell of appreciation around Centre Court and many a weeping eye in the massive tele-audience.

In that brief, plaintive speech he displayed raw emotions many doubted he possessed – genuine sadness replacing the dour, at times scowling countenance that has become his default expression, regret writ large on his face and in his quivering voice that he couldn’t reshape history.

It caused the Duchess of Cambridge to bite her bottom lip, her sister, Pippa – she of shapely posterior fame – to dab her eyes and even Victoria Beckham looked glummer than normal.

Though it fell short of Federer’s steel and panache, Murray’s tenacity and talent elevated him to a pantheon above all the other British nearly-was brigade of losers – e.g. the nice, but serial flop, Tim Henman, John Lloyd (who at least won three, mixed-doubles Grand Slams), way back to Roger Taylor (thrice a Wimbledon semi-finalist) and even Mike Sangster (a one-time Wimbledon semis loser).

And, apart from pocketing the £half-million runner-up’s purse, Murray won over many new hearts, who previously had admired the tennis player but disliked the apparent grouchiness of the man.

So far as British tennis is concerned, though – apart from a promising crop of teenage girls – it has much to answer for, the main question being: why, after so much investment in the game, have we only one male singles player good enough to grace a Wimbledon final?