I was already born before the last London Olympics but was too young to remember anything about them.  My first Games memories are of Helsinki where the fact but not the form of some kind of anthem or fanfare are still in my mind in that funny sense that you know something that you nevertheless cannot dredge up from deep memory (even with the help of the opening ceremony found on YouTube).   It feels like a very primal musical memory, perhaps an anthem, perhaps a BBC radio ident, with an impact like the haunting sound of Tutenkamun’s trumpets as played after their discovery in the 1920s (which to my young mind seemed to echo directly across the millennia from ancient times, as if those stiff marching figures were going to walk off the papyri and around the street corner).

Thereafter the summer Games seemed to offer some innocent magic of the best of each generation offering their utmost, especially in athletics, where I admired middle distance running, a British strength in the mid twentieth century, when the African altitude runners were still to emerge.  It was still an innocent pleasure to admire your country’s sport in those days, but it was endeavour regardless of country that was most admired.  So it was Zatopek in Helsinki, Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in Rome.  Melbourne followed Helsinki and Rome followed Melbourne, all Games it seemed held in a Corinthian spirit, and a friend and I travelled to Rome two years later to admire Nervi’s modernist Olympic architecture nestled amongst the Fascist art deco buildings of E.U.R. In 1968 the Mexico Games, at altitude Bob Beamon set a world record for the long jump that lasted for 23 years, and two American black athletes gave a black power salute on the winners’ podium.

About this time I became aware that racial politics had first entered the Olympics in 1936 Berlin through the way that Jesse Owens, the African American sprinter, eloquently countered Nazi theories of racial superiority with sprinting victories on the track.   Sport more sharply echoed politics in the 1972 Munich Olympics with the killing of nine Israeli athletes and most of the Black September movement who had taken them hostage.  A political boycott centred round the Russian presence in Afghanistan kept 66 countries away from the Moscow games in 1980, but the British went and their middle distance running then being at its peak one Sebastian Coe won 1500 metres with Steve Ovett third, and Ovett won the 800 metres with Coe second.  Sebastian Coe, now a member of the House of Lords for the Conservative party, is in charge of the 2012 London Olympics.

Of course I had constructed my early innocence.  In fact political, religious, financial, and drug-taking controversies, scandals and incidents seemed to dog most summer Olympics, with the possible bright exceptions of Sydney and Barcelona.  A famous refusal by the athlete Eric Liddell to run on Sunday for religious reasons, together with the struggle of Jewish athlete Harold Abrahams to overcome anti-Semitism, inspired the 1981 film Chariots of Fire about their participation in the 1924 Paris Olympics. There was even a dispute about whether all the Games of the modern Olympiad should be held in Athens, as the Greeks proposed.  London’s rich inheritance includes banning Germany and Japan in 1948. Each Games hold the mirror up to their times, and to the values of their hosts within those times. By their Games, you might say, shall you know them.

So it is with 2012 London Olympics.  Locally, it has established unprecedented degrees of control about how people can treat their own homes, with some boroughs seeking to prevent people renting them out to Games visitors, presumably to provide a boost to the London hotel industry.  Lanes of roads will be closed to allow limousines to ferry the sporting elite, many of whom have far from spotless reputations in the governance of their sports, or the disposal of the fortunes flowing from it.

For in line of current global obsessions the Games are clearly about money.  Not only have the sponsors bought advertising rights and marketing outlets within the Olympic Park, but, astonishingly, rival products can be confiscated from games goers who may in all innocence be carrying them.  Not only does this seem to be trespassing on the shores of individual rights but it is as if in late capitalism brand competition has gone ideological – committed not only to triumph over the competitor product but to airbrush out the evidence that it even exists. The ancient Greeks arranged a temporary truce from war during the Olympic Games, with the wisdom of knowing what unlimited military competition might do. Of course a temporary end of war would be nice in our era; perhaps more pertinent, and certainly more challenging, would be to try to ensure that the endemic competition of our times, commercial competition, and the glorification of commercial elites, would be given a holiday.

Nationally, it has to bear the burden of having supported the headline act in the war against terrorism and generally pursuing imperialism by proxy post 9/11 – that will mean helicopters overhead, fast patrol boats carrying military on the Thames, Eurofighters lined up to shoot down any aircraft that appear to be heading for the Park, and missiles on the roof of East End flats to catch any that evade the warplanes. Is it comforting to know that these measures will ensure that the 80,000 of the world sporting and business elite and a few members of the general public will be protected during the games at the cost of potentially many more deaths of ordinary Londoners, as a shot-down plane falls on it?