Wet Olympic Dreams
With the London 2012 Olympic Games in danger of being rained off and mired in controversy about security, traffic jams, strikes by transportation workers and immigration officials and complaints about price gouging, Thailand has reportedly made a surprise secret offer to the International Olympic Committee to nominate Bangkok as a last-minute replacement venue.
Prachatai’s investigative reporters discovered the bid when the office cleaner reported that her brother-in-law’s cousin’s noodle stand had made a successful bid on a contract to provide fast food at the Bangkok Olympics 2012. Although the contract seen by Prachatai contained a confidentiality clause, he seemed happy to talk to the media.
Following the example of the McDonalds contract at the London Olympic Park, he had submitted a bid that included an exemption from corporation tax on all income from the Olympics and a ban on all other food outlets at any Olympic venue from serving noodles. This effectively gave him a tax-free monopoly or, as he termed it, ‘a licence to print money’.
Other food retailers had protested at the monopoly on noodles and under pressure the Bangkok Olympic Games Organizing Forum, or BOGOF, eventually negotiated a loophole for the ‘national signature’ dish of phat thai. This form of noodles was invented on the orders of military dictator Plaek Phibunsongkhram to instil among Thais a patriotic pride in eating Chinese noodles.
But even with this concession to nationalist nutrition, the cleaner’s brother-in-law’s cousin was confident of making a killing and strongly backed Bangkok’s bid to host the games. ‘So what if we don’t have all the sports facilities? The main purpose of the Olympic Games is to make money and the sports are just an excuse to get lots of people into the country so that we can rip them o…, I mean, exploit the marketing opportunities.’
A person claiming to speak on behalf of BOGOF also made the point that the Bangkok athlete’s village, located in some disused military barracks in Prachinburi, would be happy to serve horse meat for the contingent from Kazakhstan, something London had gibed at. ‘We are confident of being able to serve any food that the foreign contestants require,’ said the spokesperson.
When asked if it was true they would really be serving horse meat, she became less sure. ‘Er, I think so. At the very least, we can do dog meat. It’s more or less the same thing, isn’t it? No one will know the difference.’
A quick survey by Prachatai of the various national sports associations revealed a general optimism about Bangkok’s ability to stage the games at short notice. When questioned where Bangkok could hold the rowing events, which require a specially designed lake, the Thailand Rowing Association was quietly confident.
‘Normally, we practice on the canals in the city’ they said. ‘But this requires us to wear protective gear and masks in case we are splashed with the toxic canal water and Olympic rules do not allow clothing of this sort.
‘So we have asked the BMA to speed up this year’s flooding so that we can use Vibhavadi Rangsit highway in front of Don Muang airport. It’s already got lane markings so it will be ideal. Well, except for the wash when the tour buses go past, but our rowers are used to this kind of thing from the canal boats, so it gives us a better chance to win a medal.’
Many have expressed concerns about Bangkok’s notorious traffic jams, noting that athletes and spectators risk missing events due to the legendary gridlock that often turns a journey of a few kilometres into an hours-long ordeal. But an officer with the Traffic Management Division of the Royal Thai Police said such fears were exaggerated.
‘London has had to make special Olympic lanes when they had nothing like them before’, he said. ‘But most of our major roads have had bus lanes for many years. We can just convert them into Olympic lanes while the games are on.’
When it was pointed out that these days motorists totally ignore Bangkok’s bus lanes, the officer said that this was a problem of enforcement, whereas his Division was responsible for policy and planning, where there was no problem.
Local bus operators were delighted to hear of the opportunity to ferry competitors and officials around. ‘We’ve heard about the plans for the London Olympics and we are sure we can provide an equivalent service’, said one company owner.
‘We have luxury VIP coaches for transporting people like the Japanese men’s football team and we also still have some old ‘Orange Crush’ 7-seats-abreast rattletraps that will be suitable for taking their women’s team on overnight trips to games in Ubon and Songkhla.’
When Prachatai attempted to contact members of the International Olympic Committee in London to confirm the possibility of diverting the Olympics to Bangkok, it proved difficult to get past the switchboard of their 5-star hotel near Marble Arch. Every time we called, we were told they were all ‘out shopping’.
Eventually one Committee member returned our calls and said that he had heard nothing about any move to Bangkok, but that the Committee would be willing to consider this, depending on how much Bangkok had to offer. When our reporter started to list the facilities and services available, she was cut short.
‘No, no, how much in dollars?’