Midweek Musings – The Big Issues

Here at JVN, we sometimes are pleasantly surprised by the extent to which people get excited by the important matters of the day, whether it’s to do with volunteering or Jewish life in general. And occassionally we receive something so brilliant that we can’t wait until the end of the week to put it up. So we are proud to present our first Midweek Musings blog post, for thoughts that are too compelling to delay.

In our first Midweek Musings, Phil Rosenberg, the Director of Faiths Forum for London, shares with us what he believes are the most important questions that have gone unanswered over the London 2012 Games.

I am a fan of London 2012.

In our capital city, we have just enjoyed several wonderful weeks of sport, with more to come in the Paralympics. So far, we have impressed international visitors and shown we could more than compete with China’s Opening Ceremony. Team GB performed excellently, and the sun even shone.

If you want to see me wax lyrical about the Games, read my blog about my experiences as a performer in the Opening Ceremony, or as a Gamesmaker in the Basketball Arena, coming soon to JVN’s website. But I want now to reflect on a couple of questions that I think should sit high on the agenda of the organisers’ of future Games, questions that went unanswered in these fantastic few weeks.

For much of the Jewish community, and many others besides, a sour taste has been left in the mouth by the inability to find some way of commemorating the Israeli athletes murdered in Munich in 1972. In the end, it was left to the Jewish Committee for the London Games and Israeli authorities to put on a dignified and moving event at the Guildhall.

The memorial, attended by the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London, IOC President Jacques Rogge and London 2012’s Lord Coe – among hundreds of others – demonstrated that this is taken seriously at a high level. But many feel that the event should have happened in the Olympic Park, as an official event of the International Olympic Committee. The contortions of the IOC to try and find a way to do this without doing it, to be involved without endorsing the event, strike many as very uncomfortable indeed and efforts should be taken to right the perception that Israelis are being singled out.

Clearly, it would be undesirable for the IOC to take an overtly political stance on the Israel/Palestine or any other conflict, but perhaps they could find some way to recognise the times when the Olympics as a whole has been attacked, including the bombing of the 1996 Atlanta Games by Eric Robert Rudolph, killing two.

The stirring dance and music sequence during the Opening Ceremony commemorating the 7/7 London bombings with Emeli Sandé singing ‘Abide with Me’ showed how this could be done sensitively and without making the whole event a sombre experience. Indeed, it gave the joyous Opening Ceremony even more depth. It is hard to believe the smart folks on the IOC cannot come up with something sensitive but adequate. Whilst they come up instead with excuses for not doing so, suspicions will remain as to why.

But this is not the only ethical question for the IOC and the Rio Organising Committee to consider. Wider questions have been raised about the sponsorship of the Games, most notably about Dow Chemicals. Dow bought Union Carbide, whose pesticide-plant leak killed thousands and injured hundreds of thousands in Bhopal, India. Yet Dow remains one of the key sponsors of the Olympics against a backdrop of significant protest. Indeed, the London Assembly passed a motion said that this decision has “caused damage to the reputation of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Meanwhile, other leading sponsors include producers of foods and drinks not closely associated with healthy living, and a host of others whose records are subject to dispute. Of course, it is understood that sponsorship is important to the Games if taxpayers in the host-cities are not to pay even more for them, but there should surely be a publicised and respected charter of standards and values that sponsors need to meet to get the exposure and profile that the Games affords them. To quote further from the motion at the London Assembly mentioned above, “This Assembly feels the IOC and national organising committees should consider the environmental, social, ethical and human rights records of companies when awarding high-profile partnership and sponsorship deals.” Let the Games celebrate and encourage the best in ethical business as well as the pinnacle of sporting achievement. That would ensure an enduring legacy and ripple effect around the World.

Many people have celebrated the spirit of the volunteers who have been giving their time to make the Games happen. The volunteers I worked with over the Summer so far have been impressively diverse in terms of religion, race, ability, age, gender and sexuality but there is a one nut of equality that clearly wasn’t cracked, and that is the socio-economic inequality inherent in Britain’s infamous class divide.

One prominent youth worker I spoke to earlier this year outlined the problem for me. His charity had been approached by London 2012 to see if they could help, in particular, to recruit working class black men and women. He was perceptibly angry. He said that volunteering – with not even the reward of a ticket for the sport – was ‘all very well’ for middle classes who could afford to take the time out to strengthen their CVs, but not for working class people who, fundamentally, needed to earn enough money to stay above the breadline.

I suspect that this is a question that goes far beyond London 2012, and one that people who take on volunteers should bear in mind. Is there a way that we can make such opportunities accessible to those who cannot afford to work for free? What does it say about our ‘opportunity’ if we can’t? It is an easier question to ask than to answer, but with unemployment at 21.9% for 16-24 year olds, we surely have to try.

So to conclude, I am not a naysayer about these Games. It would be very hard to be. But there are questions that remain outstanding, which need to be passed to Rio alongside all the successes.

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Categories: Midweek Musings

Author:Mike

Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.

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