12 June 2007

Who cares about the grassroots?

Commenting on the imminent closure of Waltham Forest public swimming pool, in London, 'the biggest and best swimming pool, the one used by club swimmers and triathletes and talented teenagers with dreams of competing for Great Britain in 2012', Martin Samuel writes in today's London Times:
In the end, it is about priorities. An Olympic logo that could have been designed for nothing by the students in art colleges around Britain came in at roughly £400,000. The same sum would cover the year-on-year losses on the pool at Waltham Forest College until 2012 and beyond, yet we have no money to do that. ... To make the Olympic budget work, £2.2 billion has been taken from lottery funding. That is the reality of the London games. Big-ticket items constructed at the expense of grassroots sport.
This is the story the world over: the small and local sacrificed to feed the appetite of the large and global. Our political system is like our economic system. Things that really matter to people are given away, because they cannot be quantified and, especially, cannot be converted into monetary terms. It's happening to the environment and it's happening to social cohesion. It's not just Britain and it's not just sport. There is something very wrong with our decision-making mechanism when the aggregated wishes of large numbers of ordinary people are routinely under-weighted, while the financial demands of large corporations - including government agencies - assume over-riding dimensions.

Ordinary people in the current system find it difficult to articulate our concerns. One reason is that we have to make guesses as to how to achieve our goals. We might all want, say, better sports facilities for our children, and we might be prepared to give up the chance of hosting the Olympics for that goal. But to bring that about, how would the ordinary person make those wishes apparent to policymakers? Find people who believe the same thing, perhaps get a petition going, find sympathetic politicians to articulate your case.... But all this takes time, and in that time the the corporates - advertizers, property developers, broadcasters, and the rest - will have already made their case to government, and made it very slickly and persuasively too.

An alternative approach would be for policy to be subordinated to the goals of natural persons, rather than corporates. Broad health and social goals would subsume grassroots sports objectives. Britain might still get to host the Olympic Games, but only if that were thought by the market to be the best way of achiving those goals.

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