The Sports Page

How to Attend the Olympics Without Really Dying

Rules are strict. Instructions are confusing, intimidating. Are your possessions “unclean” and therefore banned? Will you survive? A guide through the rules and corporate yatter of London’s sparkling Olympic mess.

Olympic Park, London. Courtesy London 2012.

You will arrive in the UK—at Heathrow Airport, more likely than not—without any sharp objects on or about your person, or in your luggage. Ensure you are not addicted to embroidery or knitting. Don’t plan on hosting a barbecue involving skewered meat products soon after your arrival. Neither sharp implements, nor naked flames, are permitted within the bounds of the airport.

Heathrow is the official Host Airport of the Olympic Games. There will be volunteer multilingual members of the Journey Team on-hand to help visitors like you. They will provide help, if you need it, with leaving the airport. There are many ways to leave Heathrow Airport. Not all of them involve getting on a return flight back home.

There is the Piccadilly Line, with which you can take an Underground Train directly to Harrods. Stop there if you must, and continue to King’s Cross. Here, you’ll find the entrance to Platform Nine and Three Quarters, helpfully moved to a more tourist-friendly spot since the station was rebuilt over the last couple of years. Look above you, though, at the spectacular roof. Big railway stations are something the British do quite well, and this is the latest example.

Another way to leave Heathrow is in a London taxi, or “black cab” as they are known to locals. The black cabs have access to the official Olympic Road Network (ORN), a series of roads that will be fully or partially closed to the public for the duration of the Games. Driving without a permit on one of these roads may not result in a fine or prison sentence (mainly because no one knows who is supposed to be watching over them), but I wouldn’t want to take my chances. You may wish to hire a car and drive to the Olympic Park yourself, but then you will have to contend with London’s Congestion Charging Zone, which is where you pay extra tax for driving on roads in the center of the city. Frankly, I’d stick to the Piccadilly Line if I were you.


On arrival at the Olympic Park, you may find yourself subject to a security check. This is to ensure there are no Unclean Brands about your person. It will be like going through an airport, the organizers say. How wonderful, that the joy of modern flying should be re-created and celebrated this way. Submit to your pat-down with a smile on your face, and kick off your shoes when requested, pausing only to break into a verse from the official Olympic rock song.

You may enter the Olympic Park with an officially sanctioned brand emblazoned across your chest. Sportsmanship means saying that you only ever drink Coke, only ever eat McDonald’s, that your phone is a Samsung and your TV a Panasonic. And that you paid for all of these things with your Visa card. Should you be foolish enough to claim that you always had a fondness for Pepsi, much prefer Burger King, and will have to have your iPhone prised from your cold dead hands, you’ll be declared unsportsmanlike. A cheat. And you know what we do with cheats. We hound them on Twitter.

You may bring Unclean potato chips, but only if you tip them into an unbranded clear plastic bag first. Perhaps you could use the same plastic bag you used to carry liquid no larger than 100ml through airport security on your way here.

About that Visa payments thing: Don’t bother taking other payment cards into the Olympic Zone. You are expected to pay for everything—all your Official Merchandise, your Official Cokes, your Official Big Macs—with your sanctioned Visa card. No other card is as sporting. No other card is as official. No other card splashed out the sponsorship fee. You can pay by cash if you wish. Don’t believe those hysterical reports you’ve seen about cash being banned. But if you don’t use your Visa, you will be looked down upon by the upper classes. People will think twice about making conversation or inviting you home for tea. Merchandise sellers will give you the dusty stuff from the back of the stock room. Cash is for losers.

You will be turned away if you attempt to take in cameras with excessively large lenses, or cameras that look overly “professional.” If you own a camera that looks only partly professional, I suggest you switch it to Auto and set the white balance to Tungsten, to convince the security guards that despite owning an expensive camera that may even support interchangeable lenses, you are in fact a gormless idiot who only bought it for its looks. They will wave you through.

Don’t bring tents or Tasers. Don’t bring fireworks or frisbees. Don’t bring air horns, alcohol, or anything intended for “ambush marketing.” Just don’t.

Don’t bring tents or Tasers. Don’t bring fireworks or frisbees. Don’t bring air horns, alcohol, or anything intended for “ambush marketing.” Just don’t.

In short, the message is: Don’t bring much of anything. Everything you could possibly want or need will be available in the Park, in exchange for a swipe of your card. The more you carry on your body, the longer and more intrusive the security checks will have to be. The fiasco surrounding G4S, the company that was supposed to be sourcing security officers for the Games and apparently forgot how to do it, means that troops have been drafted in at the last minute. Arrive carrying nothing but your Visa card and, if you must, a small and amateurish looking camera, and you will have no problems at all.

On the positive side, visitors are allowed to bring in empty plastic bottles which they can fill with water inside the Park. So although Coke may be It, it’s not the only It you’re allowed.


You might feel weary of the excessive commercialism, of the corporate messaging, of the sponsor’s pavilions that dot the Olympic Park like the grassy divots thrown up by shot-putters. You may wonder why, amid this festival of sporting prowess, there needs to be a Coca-Cola Beatbox stand, or a BP: Fuelling the Future stand.

The answer, of course, is that without the giant sponsorship budgets of these obnoxious corporate entities, none of what surrounds you would have been built. Today’s austere European Governments cannot afford to spend billions on mere sporting events. They would much rather spend billions on aircraft carriers and remote-control drones, or shoring up crooked banks. Sport comes a long way down the list of priorities. You either have a Coke with your sport and enjoy it, dammit, or you don’t have your sport at all.

The British newspapers, which have spent most of the last year moaning about every tiny thing they can find wrong with the whole Olympics experience, have taken a last-minute about-turn and now, it seems, wholeheartedly support the Games and everything to do with them. Enough moaning says the Telegraph. Stop moaning says the Independent. Log in with your Facebook account to create your own fun Olympic Games newspaper, pleads Coca-Cola.

And that’s what will happen. The British, gifted with a glimpse of sunshine after months of rain, will cheer the hell up and start smiling. The Games may be well be a hellish mire of corporate interests and commercial greed, but they are our hellish mire of corporate interests and commercial greed, and we will damn well make the most of them. And did those feet, in ancient times, walk upon the tiled floors of a retail pavilion in East London? Yes, they bloody well did.

If you own a camera that looks only partly professional, I suggest you switch it to Auto and set the white balance to Tungsten, to convince the security guards that you are a gormless idiot who only bought it for looks.

Even the moaning Brits are forced to accept that the Olympics Game have achieved a handful of wonderful successes even before the Opening Ceremony has begun. That ceremony itself is being directed by Danny Boyle, the man who made the generation-defining film Trainspotting back in 1996. The Games have given us Twenty Twelve, the finest and funniest UK sitcom on TV since Fawlty Towers. And parts of London have been given a robust lick of paint, the sort of paint job that includes building beautiful, brutalist new railway stations and cable car links over the River Thames. Future commuters will thank the Olympic sponsors for helping to make these things happen.

Amid all the moaning, the U-turning and the determinedly being positive, few have bothered to mention the athletes. But the athletes are the reason all this was built, why all of you are here.

They are also why you should go to the Park almost empty-handed, and why you should leave your camera and your phone (Samsung or otherwise) at home. For once, just this once, and because commercial and security concerns demand it, why not fight back against your device addiction? Don’t bother recording what you’re watching—just watch it. Switch off your distractions and take a closer look at the muscles, at the facial expressions, at the earnest intensity of the people for whom all of this money is spent. Watch the sport as it was meant to be watched: with emotion.