Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Forecasters warn that this will be the wettest Summer Games ever, and many venues were not designed for dreary weather.
Looking at London’s Olympics plans from over in America, it must be hard to fathom why the attitude of many British journalists (myself included) has often seemed rather negative. Despite some ludicrously heavy-handed sponsor-protection and security measures, the upcoming Games should still have plenty going for them. London’s preparations have focused like no Olympics before on providing the city with a meaningful legacy, investment has been swamping a deprived area and, despite fairly low-key architecture, a few beautiful, reusable sporting facilities will be left behind. So what’s the problem?
Rain, that’s what. It may sound beyond trivial, but while North America has been baking in some anteroom to hell, Britain has been drowning in the wettest spring and summer on record. Following a winter drought, rain has been pelting down almost without respite since the 5th of April, often throughout the day. Flooding has hit the country hard*. Many outdoor events have been cancelled and those that remained in place, like the Olympic Torch relay and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, have looked less like summer celebrations than scenes from King Lear. London is now a slushy mess, and walking through its parks feels like bouncing across a vast, dirty sponge.
We’ve been praying the weather changes before the Olympics, but forecasts suggest it won’t. Now it looks like our often fair city is going to show the world its most sullen face. With rain continuing at least into the Games' first week, get ready for the "wettest Summer Games ever."
Still, at least Games organizers, aware of London’s temperamental climate, put roofs over all the major venues. Didn’t they? As it happens, they didn’t. While some sites, like the Olympic Stadium, are partly covered, many temporary venues are completely open. Contingency plans are swiftly being drawn up to cope with the predicted downpours but it seems that no refunds will be offered. This may turn spectating into something of an endurance sport itself. According to reports in The Guardian, while spectators in the Olympic Stadium’s cheap seats should stay dry, visitors who have paid out over £2000 for the best places may need to use (freely provided) ponchos to protect them from a track-side drenching.
All this might seem funny from across the Atlantic. And in fact, it seems quite funny over here too, particularly since the awfulness of the weather is pushing many people into a state of mild hysteria. As I’ve mentioned before, self-deprecation is a knee-jerk response over here, and people have been enjoying parodic, rain-soaked predictions of the upcoming opening ceremony like this one. There is also an underlying streak of angst, though. In what is a nightmare for Britons with any shred of patriotism, the whole world is now going to see exactly what we have to put up with.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly linked to a 2007 story that referred to some controversial comments made about that year's excessive rain and flooding, not this year's rains.