The Olympics banned list

The official list of prohibited items at the Olympics includes "oversized hats" and "sharpened combs".

For those who have yet to read it, the 2012 Olympics list of prohibited items is quite a funny diktat. At first, it looks like a typical bit of health and safety box ticking: no booze, no fireworks, no laser pointers, blah blah. Most of the stuff in the first half of the list is brought in by the kind of people whom it’s fair to say don’t particularly care for health and safety regulations. At least, I can’t remember the last time I headed down to Twickenham with a “sharpened comb”, a “bayonet” (what with it not being 1890) or some “CS gas”. Just in case, like.

But it’s the second half of the list whereupon things get interesting. Immediately, we see “excessive amounts of food”. Who defines “excessive”?  My own definition wavers between “a big sandwich” and “an entire Domino’s pizza, three bottles of Lucozade and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s”, depending on whether or not I’m hungover. I guess the important thing is that if your definition tends towards the latter, then you can hit the world’s largest McDonald’s (1,500 seats!! No?) in the Olympic Park as hard as you like, thus helping the games bring us that economic boost we’ve all been promised. Cunning stuff.

But more to the point – “any objects or clothing bearing political statements or overt commercial identification intended for ‘ambush marketing’”. Again, the problem here is one of clarity. It seems that while Locog are quite happy with you wearing that banterific Inbetweeners “Pussay Patrol” t-shirt, there’s a clear question over your “Keep Calm and Smoke Weed” one. Is that too political? Will your Che Guevara t-shirt get you sent home, and if so, for what? For supporting communism? For espousing the 1958 removal of Fulgencio Batista? For championing the right to look like a tool? Reader, I wish I could tell you.

And as for “ambush marketing”, it seems unlikely anyone outside of the advertising industry (let’s be honest, this guff has their moronic paws all over it) understands this term. I know I don’t. The problem is that ever since clothes started getting logos, we’ve all become ambush marketers, in a way. Will I be a suspect on the grounds that when clothes shopping I just buy what the mannequins in Marks and Spencer are wearing? Is the complimentary “I’m an Amiga gamer and proud” hat I got in 1992 now acceptable? (My ex-girlfriend can answer this: apparently not). And while we're on the subject of hats, heaven forbid it's got a bit of a brim on it - "oversized hats" are strictly forbidden.

Those of us who regularly go to sports events are used to this arseclap.  No doubt it kind of makes sense to the companies that implement it, and most of the time we – being British – shrug our shoulders, grumble and play along. The Olympics has taken it to a whole new level, a somewhat surreal, otherworldly level where, thanks to McDonald’s, you can only order chips on the Olympic site if they’re accompanied by a fish. Ludicrous, you say? Well yes: we’re talking branding here, not sense.

The truth is that Locog know this sort of thing adds to any cynicism the public feels about the Games. But they also know that £750m in sponsorship is £750m in sponsorship. McDonald’s, Visa, and Cadbury can pretty much do what the hell they like. Apply that principle to the world outside the stadia, and suddenly it’s not so funny.

Here's the full list:

Prohibited and restricted items lists

 

Look! It's the Pope wearing a sombrero. No, really. Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.