The World Cup has begun. Most people seem to be aware of this – apart from the Greater London Authority and the Mayor of London. In January the GLA submitted a licensing application to Camden Council to erect a 20,000 capacity ‘Fan Zone’ in Regent’s Park for the 4-week duration of the World Cup. The arena would have included a grandstand, bar, hospitality area and a large screen showing 60 of the 64 World Cup games.
The well heeled residents of the park, led by GLA councillor and self-appointed bourgeoisie activist Brain Coleman, grumbled eloquently and in March the GLA lost its nerve and cancelled the entire venture. They did however promise to “focus on the other options available”. Now, with the World Cup’s opening ceremony upon us and large public screenings conspicuously absent from London’s World Cup itinerary, it would appear that not one of these “options” have come to fruition.
This sorry episode exposes so many of the social, cultural and political sectarianisms that beset modern London that it is difficult to know exactly where to start. If Paris can stage fan zones at the Eiffel Tower, Rome at the Circus Maximus, Rio on Copacabana Beach and Sydney at Darling Harbour, then why can’t we do the same at iconic locations in London? How on earth can we possibly expect our bid to host the 2018 World Cup bid to be taken seriously if we cannot even muster the logistical acumen and civic resolve to organise public football screenings in our capital city?
London’s track record of arranging large public screenings of major sporting events is woeful. But in these economically belligerent times, the failure to exploit the manifest commercial opportunities the fan zones would have produced represents an astonishing collapse of fiscal intuition. What is the point of the GLA if it does not have the political will to realise the greater cultural good in the face of localised, partisan opposition? If not Regent’s Park then why did they not pursue Hyde Park, the South Bank or Trafalgar Square?
But the depressing yet familiar reality at the heart of this dire farce is not geography, economics or even politics, it is class and snobbery. The erroneously titled ‘Friends’ of Regent’s Park were happy to accommodate a fan zone last year for the last test match of the Ashes. Yet Macolm Kafetz, chairmain of the group, brazenly explained that “cricket fans are not football fans” and that a football fan zone would lead to “drunken louts piddling” across the park.
Ralph Armond, the director of the Zoological Society of London, also waded in announcing that the football fan zone would "could create a serious animal welfare issue" for the occupants of nearby London Zoo – the surreal insinuation being that animals prefer to cricket to football.
What these ludicrous smokescreens fail to conceal is a deep-seated social intolerance towards football and a breathtaking ignorance about the behavioural characteristics of the vast majority of its fans. To penalise the majority for the anticipated misdemeanours of the few is as offensive as it is intellectually illiterate.
And yes, last year’s cricket fan zone was smaller than that planned for the football. Yet that in turn was a mere fraction of the size of the vast equivalent events staged in Australia and Brazil. Unsurprisingly, neither of these locations was forced to endure the metropolitan meltdown feverishly predicted by the Regent’s Park detractors.
Public spaces should provide a collective concentration of citizenship. They should not be hijacked by a sophisticated, selfish minority keen to enforce social exclusion and perpetuate cultural prejudice. Regent’s Park does not belong to its local residents, the ‘Friends’ of Regent’s Park or the animals in London Zoo. It belongs to all the people of London.
To essentially deny that majority the opportunity to stage a temporary national celebration within it is a cynical corruption of the libertarian ideals that have made London’s Royal Parks the envy of the world. Everybody responsible for this grubby municipal coup should be ashamed.