If you live in London, a little bit of Soviet Russia will be coming down your way during next year’s Olympics. Not the oversized shotputters of dubious sexual provenance who used to clean up on the gold medals in the female events, or, at the other end of the scale, the dainty gymnasts whose bodies were also sacrificed in the pursuit of honouring Communism.
No, what we will be getting are Zil lanes. More than a hundred miles of them, stretching from Heathrow to Stratford in east London and Wembley in the north-west. Zil lanes are sections of the road ruled out of bounds during the Olympic weeks to all but the structurally dysfunctional so-called ‘Olympic family’.
Zil cars were the stonking great black, shiny, steel behemoths used by the Russian nomenklatura when the Red Flag flew over the Kremlin, and they had access to special lanes to enable their occupants to reach their offices faster than the proletariat they were supposed to serve. Of course they needn’t have bothered , since the regime barely allowed private car ownership and the roads were virtually car-free.
Not surprisingly, irreverent Londoners have dubbed them Zil lanes, a name that has stuck in preference to the official description ‘special games lanes’ . In Soviet Russia, the Communist leaders were never called upon to explain their inherent contradiction, given that all men and women were supposedly equal, and not surprisingly Boris Johnson, Lord Coe and Tessa Jowell have been just as reticent about why these privileges have been accorded to a dubious bunch of VIPs and hangers- on. The best Boris could come up with recently was that he was seeking to avoid ‘the reputational catastrophe that engulfed Atlanta’ at the 1996 games when athletes found themselves stuck in traffic jams in a city that had little public transport.
London, though, is blessed with an excellent public transport system that could easily accommodate most of the ‘family’. However, as part of the Olympic bid, Coe and his mates declared that Stratford was only 25 minutes from the swanky hotels of Park Lane, forgetting to mention that the distance could be covered in this time only by breaking the speed limit and never stopping at a red light.
So guess, what? Not only will the ‘family’ have access to Zil lanes, but the even less equal among them, the elite in the 240 chauffeur-driven BMW limousines specially reserved for the ultra VIPs, will find their cars have been fitted, at a cost to the taxpayer of £12 million, with sensors that quite literally turn the lights from red to green.
Meanwhile, ordinary motorists and cyclists who mistakenly wander into a Zil lane will be spotted on CCTV and find themselves liable to a fixed penalty of £200.
While few would begrudge the athletes being given special treatment, they won’t be needing the lanes as they’ll be housed in the Olympic village in Stratford. The 80,000 members of the ‘family’ who will be haring across London jumping the lights will be a bunch of petty royals and tinpot politicians, not to mention the kleptomaniac Sepp Blatters of this world, few of whom ever donned a pair of Nike trainers in their lives.
Not surprisingly the people most up in arms about the proposed London Zil lanes are the black cab drivers. If the Mayor or the sporting authorities had an ounce of sense, they would have long bought them off by allowing them to use the lane too , but presumably they must have thought that would be the thin edge of the wedge and in no time at all we’d have peers of the realm or even MPs clamouring for access. As Simon Jenkins suggested in the Evening Standard, it’s almost as if the politicians and the sports administrators actively want to foment revolution.