Alan White's Olympics Diary: Beautiful Bradley, and the IOC's billion-pound edifice of immorality

Jacques Rogge's committee does nothing but look out for its own interests.

I’m so sorry. I wanted to wax lyrical about the beauty of Bradley. Of course I did. But duty calls. So.

On Tuesday, the women’s badminton took an unexpected turn when the Danes pulled off a shock win over a strong Chinese pair and took the top of Group D. The Chinese were due to meet the winners of Group A. Another Chinese pair was playing South Korea for that position.

Neither of them wanted to meet the first Chinese pair, so, to mounting boos and intervention from the referees, they tried to out-underperform each other, deliberately hitting the shuttlecock into the net and so on. The same thing happened in the next match, between South Korea and Indonesia.

Now, as I said yesterday, this isn’t particularly redolent of the Olympic spirit. The eight players were referred to the Badminton World Federation, found to be in breach of the code, and were thrown out of the Olympics.

It all seems pretty cut and dry. They were bad sports, so they were kicked out. Except it isn’t, at all. This morning Matthew Syed, the former table tennis competitor for Team GB, has admitted his team once deliberately lost a game in much the same manner. Gail Emms, whom you’ll remember as a 2004 silver medallist in badminton for Great Britain, has also backed the players.

Far more disturbingly, Emms has told the Guardian: “Yesterday, after the Danish players beat the Chinese in the morning session, the team managers went to the organisers and said: "We're a bit worried about these evening matches." Nothing was done. Straight away they should have got all the players and coaches together and said: 'If there is any single sign of someone trying not to win you will all be disqualified.'”

Emms and Syed both blame the officials. And you can see their point: you enter the Olympics to win. Regardless of whether you agree with the players’ actions, the officials shouldn’t put them in a position where that aim is at odds with the sport’s code. And make no mistake, as German singles player Mark Zweiber has pointed out, this had been coming for some time.

But this all leads me to a far bigger issue. Those officials. There is not a hope in hell of them being pulled up for failing to spot this potential row. Instead the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, talks only of further action - presumably formally expelling the athletes from the Games.

You could be forgiven for thinking the IOC couldn’t give a monkey’s about the athletes without whom there would be no games. You might think it is simply a train of pampered bureaucrats that floats from one city to the next, detached from anything other than the rarefied scenes it sees in Park Lane, let alone the competitors it purports to represent.

You might wonder how far an organisation with revenues of £3.9bn in the last four years would prioritise the needs of the athletes over other concerns when its two main sources of funding are television rights and sponsorship. Perhaps you’d raise an eyebrow at its banning athletes mentioning their sponsors on social networks, unless they’re the same ones that pay the IOC.

Maybe you think that money doesn’t line the pockets of Rogge’s cronies, and finds its way to the athletes. Perhaps the words of track runner Nick Simmonds, talking to the Guardian this week, will strike a chord: “"The [IOC’s] sponsors have done absolutely nothing to help me be the athlete I am today ... For years my sponsors … have helped me train and compete and now they are made to feel unwelcome. This is not right."”

Maybe you’ll wonder, then, where that money does go, given that the IOC pays no tax. Perhaps you’ll think that, given it has a total monopoly over a global event worth billions, there’s an outside chance of corruption. In which case you might not be shocked to hear a member of the IOC’s executive board only resigned this March, citing a “lack of ethics and principles”. Two months later, the IOC began an investigation (and how rigorous it’s sure to be) into claims that officials were selling tickets to the 2012 Olympics on the black market.

And when you hear that, while their country burns, Greek Olympic officials have paid £150,000 to hire the Carlton Club in Central London to house sponsors, politicians and officials, you might start to think that this is a neat correlative; that this whole “Olympic Family” – the IOC and its shady web of federations and governing bodies – is little more than a shambling, immoral edifice that should be torn asunder, that it has never done anything more than look out for itself right back to the day it felt Berlin would be a suitable venue in 1936. How happy are you about those empty seats we continue to see in stadia right now?

Like I said, I wish I’d talked about Bradley. He was good, wasn’t he?

Odds and Ends

UK gold medal winners when young: Bradley Wiggins pays tribute to his PE teacher, and here’s Heather Stanning’s eery school yearbook, for those who missed it.

Stunning pic of Gabby Douglas at the gymnastics. Speaking of which, a fabulous GIF retelling of how the USA beat Russia. I particularly like MyKayla Maroney's vault – mesmerising.

Spare a thought for the Olympians embracing Ramadan.

As many a wag pointed out, yesterday an enthusiastic BJ was stopped by an unfortunate zip incident. Here’s a load of photoshops – they’re good, but this here video edit is a thing of genius.

How’s the Olympics been for disabled spectators? Pretty good, apparently.

Can’t believe I forgot to mention yesterday’s interview with Bert le Clos. Give this man a medal of his own.

My assertion yesterday with reference to the Tom Daley Twitter troll case that it's better to "walk on by" was poorly-worded: I was trying to emphasise my belief that no good can come of a mob retaliation towards an online abuser. There's nothing wrong with intervening, but as anywhere else, it's better done through the appropriate channels: Twitter being the obvious place to start.

 

Bradley! Gold! 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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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.