London 2012: Black Locals Feel Forgotten


(The Root) — Michael Johnson came to Finsbury Park when he first moved to London from Jamaica 42 years ago. He remembers it as a place where he expended teenage energy — and most importantly, a venue where its athletics programs were free.

Over the decades, thousands of children like him have come and gone, many of them taking advantage of the complimentary sports offerings in Finsbury Park, which is located in the Borough of Haringey, an area considered one of the most deprived areas in all of Britain. More than half of its 250,000-plus residents are ethnic minorities.


But as the Olympics go on across town, Finsbury Park's run-down sports center faces shutdown. The local council says it can't pay for the center's upkeep and is considering handing it over to a consortium of sports clubs that may not offer round-the-clock access. That worries Johnson and his friends, a group of older men, most of them from immigrant families, who gather daily to do punishing circuit training on the track and in the bare-bones gym. In between circuits, they joke and catch up on life. "They should have done this place up for the Olympics," says Johnson, who is now 57. "We don't get a lot out of the games at all."

Haringey is just one of London's many diverse neighborhoods in which residents say they feel overshadowed by the Olympics, despite efforts from the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), which is the first-ever Olympic group to have a Diversity and Inclusion Division. The committee was able to follow through on some of its intended goals, including the reclamation of former toxic wasteland in East London areas where Olympic sites were built, according to a Philadelphia Tribune report.

Still, in Hackney, one of London's most diverse neighborhoods, where some 100 different languages are spoken, residents have expressed anger about inconveniences caused by the preparation for event. For several years, some say, roadwork and construction had been done for the games. Now, with subsequent new parking restrictions, Shaba Dachi, 26, explains: "I can't even park my car on local streets. Some of the locals can't even come to church."

And then there's the matter of tickets. Not one of some two-dozen residents that The Root interviewed across London said they had venue tickets. Most said the prices were too high, but others said the Internet lottery process was confusing and flooded with applicants. "To not be able to get tickets is just a big frustration," he says. "I think there should have been some priority, some percentage of tickets made available to local residents."

However, games organizers have reportedly been working to meet the ticket demand, releasing more than 3,000 tickets across 15 sports last week after public outcry about seeing rows of empty seats during telecasts.

There also have been reports of Olympics-related economic boosts and job gains (i.e., 65 businesses have won contracts to work with the games and more than 1,700 local residents have been employed) in areas such as Tower Hamlets, a London borough that reported 13.2 percent unemployment earlier this year. Still, some argue that those figures are small in comparison to the thousands of jobs that were allegedly available.


Another resident, Rebecca Williams, 46, says she had hoped to see more economic benefit and speculated that perhaps only a small fraction actually benefited financially. "A lot of people didn't even get jobs" at the Olympics, she says. "It's only 10 percent of them who got jobs there."

In Leyton, which is a 20-minute walk from the glittering Olympic Park in Stratford, locals say things have gotten worse, not better. Shop owners on the main street say the London Olympics committee paid for them to spruce up their shop fronts. They expected a flood of tourists. But the only people walking by on their way to the stadium are park workers. "It's killed off business," says H. Akram, who has run his family's dry cleaning business. "I'm all for the Olympics, not a problem, but if you speak to any businesses here, they'll tell you the exact same thing."


One problem, several business owners say, is traffic and parking. The city has warned drivers away and has also instituted paid parking in many areas. "I spent 20 years building up this business, and in seven weeks I'm watching it crumble beneath my feet," Akram says.

At a nearby hairdresser salon, Kirsty Johnson said she didn't see much benefit from the games. She says she wishes locals had been better informed — especially about London's security precautions, which have included anti-aircraft missiles stationed in areas to protect against a potential terrorist attack.


"I don't know no one personally that's got a job at the Olympics," says Johnson, 21. "They've got a missile above my block, which I don't appreciate. We only got the letters once they decided. They dropped it literally like a bombshell."

At the Finsbury Park sports center, regular patrons trickle in as the evening light settles over the track. A woman comes in with her lanky daughter, asking about athletics. Sports-center worker Robert Bailey urges them both to come back for the free sports program.


Bailey, who looks far younger than his 41 years, reclines back in his chair and watches the scene. BBC plays a blow-by-blow of the games over the radio. When the center does close, he'll likely be out of a job. Bailey says the games are great, and he's having fun watching them. But he dryly noted that Britain's multicultural community seems to have been shut out, from the very beginning.

"When you were watching the opening ceremony, the Windrush, when our parents came over, that was all of two seconds," he says, referring to the postwar boat that brought over many foreigners, including people like Bailey's parents, who are from Jamaica.


"Most black people feel the Olympics have nothing to do with them," he says.

Anita Powell is a Johannesburg-based journalist who has covered Africa for five years and Iraq and Afghanistan previously. She's in London following the games and her favorite sport, boxing. Follow her on Twitter.