As local residents try to figure out what a Boston 2024 Olympics horse venue would mean for Franklin Park, a natural benchmark is London’s historic Greenwich Park, host to a similar venue for the latest Summer Games in 2012.
The London 2012 party line is that the Olympics upgraded Greenwich Park to a better condition than before. But Rachel Mawhood, a key protester of the Greenwich Park Olympics usage, told the Gazette this week that the Games left permanent damage—including hundreds of mature trees cut back or cut down.
“I am afraid it is just not true to say the park was left in better condition than before,” she said.
Mawhood described the Olympics process as secretive and deceptive, moving forward despite an anti-Olympics vote by the friends group’s general membership. Heavy-duty security—including anti-aircraft missile batteries—impacted residents and local businesses, she said.
“I started out as agnostic about the influence and effects,” Mawhood said in an email interview. “But my experience of the London 2012 Olympics (before, during and afterwards) changed that. I believe the present-day Olympics movement is evil—lawless, divisive, incredibly destructive, unimaginably costly.”
Mawhood was a member of the group No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrianism, and later became an unaffiliated Olympic protester. She now chairs the fledgling Greenwich Park Conservation Society, whose work includes fending off further horse events in the park.
Just like Boston 2024, London’s bid committee included Greenwich Park in its venue plan with no public input, and proceeded with secretive, abruptly changing plans, Mawhood said.
“Lack of information is deliberate,” she said. “The [International Olympic Committee] learns from each Games how better to deal with the opposition. They have perfected the boiled frog procedure: i.e., by the time the public knows how bad—disruptive, divisive, destructive—the Games are going to be, it is too late.”
She said Olympic planners used some rhetoric already familiar from Boston 2024, including appeals to patriotism and ill-informed promises to boost the park. She recalled a claim that the Olympics would “put Greenwich on the map,” when it is already world-famous as the official home of the Prime Meridian on the modern globe.
Olympic planners “deployed every trick in the book to try to avoid or limit scrutiny,” she said, including submitting their first planning application just before the Christmas holiday. Course and stadium designs later changed without notice, she said.
“I have seen an image on your website of Franklin Park with the [equestrian] cross-country course drawn on it. That is no reliable guide to the final route of the cross-country course,” she warned.
The Friends of Greenwich Park organization previously told the Gazette it chose to cooperate with the Olympics effort, and despite unexpectedly long park closures, the decision ultimately benefited the park. But Mawhood said the friends group leadership was “hijacked” by Olympics planners, though she could not pinpoint exactly how.
“The [Friends of Greenwich Park] membership actually voted against using the park as the 2012 equestrian venue,” she said, “but the executive decided—without any mandate whatsoever—that they would collaborate with [Olympic planning committee] LOCOG.”
That closeness is why the friends group agrees with LOCOG’s claim that the park was improved, Mawhood said. But, she says, the park suffered some permanent damage, a claim partly supported by photos taken by another protester and viewable online at flickr.com/photos/save_greenwich_park.
The losses included a “unique Roman pavement” and a “rare acid grassland habitat” destroyed partly through heavy herbicide use, she said. A historic park entrance gate was demolished for vehicle access and later replaced. Then there were the trees.
“Hundreds of trees had major limbs removed…Any trees on or too near the cross-country course were felled, and the stumps ground down into the soil,” she said.
The tree-cutting was done to clear space for horses, vehicles, structures, even TV camera angles, she said, typically under the excuse that it necessary for the tree’s health.
“The IOC is only interested in fantastic TV pictures,” she said, adding that the Olympics’ supposed commitment to local environmental rules is “all window-dressing. Does not count for a thing.”
“The security was intense,” Mawhood said, describing high perimeter fences, snipers around the park and a missile battery set up in an adjacent parkland.
“The Olympics organizers turned the center of Greenwich into a fortress, with huge barriers and fencing. It was a very shocking transformation to this English Baroque landscape,” she said. “The park was turned into steel-fenced prison walkways over a year before the Olympics started…”
The security hurdles helped to make the Olympics “a disaster for local businesses,” she said. “LOCOG promised the market traders a bonanza summer, and thus obtained their support. What actually happened was that LOCOG, with its barriers, kept the visitors away from the market altogether.”
And the park closures—the entire park shuttered for a month, and parts for over a year—were hard on local youths from “deprived neighborhoods and minority ethnic groups,” she said. Many people did not realize how big the Olympic impact would be, she said, “because they were not…of the social class that reads planning applications and joins mainly middle-class-run amenity and friends groups.”
The Olympics also was not a one-time event impacting the park, she said. A “test event” with horses was held a year before the full Olympics, and occasional efforts to stage equestrian events there again continue.
“If Boston wins the 2024 bid, the Olympic organizers will place ‘their’ people in every group, institution, company that they need to control, and opposition groups will be infiltrated,” Mawhood said. “The Olympics movement attitude is that everything must be subsumed to the Games. People must be dealt with in whatever way neutralizes their opposition or enlists their unquestioning loyalty.”
“If I were to say only one thing, that would be: Don’t believe anything the Olympic organizers (and those working for/with them) say,” she concluded. “If it isn’t untrue already, it soon will be untrue.”