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      Volume 10 |Issue 19 | May 20, 2011 |


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Of Olympics 2012, of East London

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Photo: courtesy

There is a decidedly robust air about London these days. And it has to do with the Olympic Games that promise to make the city a focus of global attention next year. London, of course, has always had this power, this charm, to keep attention drawn to itself, for reasons of history. The Olympics are but a newer dimension to its reputation as a prime spot of activity, social and economic and political, in the world. You get that feeling when you speak to Londoners who live at the eastern end of it, for that is where the Games will begin and end next year.

Anyone you meet in London will not fail to point out to you just how much of a spotlight the Games will be on East London. And that is especially significant, for London for a very long time was the east, until its expansion in other directions and consequent redrawing of priorities for the city. Over the past many decades, East London has been symptomatic of social decline. The general impression has been of the east being a derelict part of the city inhabited by the relatively poor. In a larger sense, East London has stayed well behind other regions of the city, to a point where it could be suggested that the rest of the world has somehow passed it by.

The Olympics are about to change that perception. For one thing, the entire stadium complex, with its main spot for the games, its velodrome and its aquatics centre, is nearly in place. What was a swamp or disused area only a few years ago today is a thriving symbol of modernity. The river Lea has been cleaned up, new plants dot its banks and hence a new assertion of environmental principles is in place. With all this resurgence of East London comes, necessarily, the feeling that Brick Lane (where the bulk of the British-Bangladeshi community is based) now looks about to claim a significant slice of the cake. Officials at Canada Square in the Canary Wharf area have this simple message: London 2012 is a way of telling people they do not need to go west any more. The Games are an opportunity for east Londoners to catch up with the rest of the city and places like Brick Lane are about to emerge as jewels of London.

And that is an important point being driven home. After all, the Games will afford people inhabiting East London a huge chance to catch up with the modern trends which have elsewhere given the city a definitive claim on contemporaneity. With the physical structure of the Games located in Stratford, East London will henceforth be linked to mainstream British professionalism through the creation of new jobs and an emergence of newer perspectives on the ways life ought to be lived. That the Olympics are happening in East London, thrilled officials in Canary Wharf will tell you, is a boost to the east, a sign that East London has come of age. London 2012, in effect, has brought all of the eastern part of the city forward by a decade. You tend to agree with that assessment. When you observe the phenomenal work done by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), you think you understand the dimensions of what has been happening in the area.

London 2012 promises to build a legacy based on the economic impact it will have on the communities peopling East London. Observe: for all the consequences of the recession, the Games will open up a range of job opportunities for those living in these parts; small businesses look forward to a good expansion through coming by contracts from larger ones. That is all in the short term. In the longer one, there is that remarkable lift it gives East London. Sport has historically been a means to an inculcation of discipline, to teamwork and perseverance. For children, for the young in East London, the Games are a surefire way to economic regeneration. They promise to turn East London into a hub of economic activity, to bring global standards to bear on it.

That certain note of cheer for the tens of thousands of British-Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets and Newham, in other localities, is unmistakable. In 2012, the symbolism will be saying it all. A happy Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, tells you softly that the Olympic torch will come to his borough first. 'We are proud to be in East London', he tells you, with that certain sparkle in his eyes.

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