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Olympics by the Thames … what more could you ask for?

Not a dry eye in the house for the past two weeks. We have seen Olympics in the streets, Olympics in the stadium, Olympics on the big screen, Olympics on the telly. What we didn’t expect as Londoners was to feel so involved, so close to it all.

Football fans wear kimonos: Japan vs France semi-final London 2012

When I say stadium, I am talking Wembley not Olympic. Wembley is a beautiful stadium in its own right, and the two women’s football matches we had the pleasure of witnessing made it even more special. 60,000 for the semi-final (Japan vs France) and 80,000 for the final (USA vs Japan). On the route up to the stadium, I overheard a spectator remarking on the atmosphere . “Oh yes”, her companion replied, “by now things would usually be feeling really hostile”. Sport in Britain should always be like this – exciting, inclusive and fun.

Full house: USA vs Japan final Wembley London 2012

Grumpy shed a tear after our national hero, Mo Farah’s second victory last night. Like the rest of the country, he was on his feet sweeping the air in a vain, but symbolic, effort to hasten the wind under Mo’s feet as he sped down the home straight. Some of our non-GB affiliated friends have been more sceptical about this new found patriotic fervour that has, seemingly, the nation in its grip. Too much GB. Not enough internationale. But at least some of the heroes we are applauding do mark a difference from those of the past. Not all of them are the upper-class, white, male ex-public schoolboy, amateur gentlemen types of old. Ok, some of them still are. But then there are people like Nicola Adams, the first ever female winner of a gold medal in boxing. Smashing!

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Advertising Olympics

It really has started. Everywhere I go I am faced with commercial messages with an Olympics theme. Ascending the escalator at Waterloo station, I was greeted with massive images of British athletes bearing down on me. Switching on the TV, every advert seems to have an Olympic message. I was brought up short on Sunday morning by a hoarding displaying the British Airways message “Don’t fly”. For a moment there I thought I was being commanded by the government to stay home to support Team GB. But of course they don’t do that anymore. These days “tongue-in-cheek” propagandist sentiments are in the purvey of the advertising campaign manager. What a strange world we live in.

I cannot decide whether my resentment at being told what to do is magnified or decreased by the knowledge that BA doesn’t really care as long as we maximise their profits for the longest duration.

Don’t fly now because we’re going to get  enough passengers.

And if you could just extend the Olympics magic for us long after the games with your postponed holiday plans, that would be fantastic.

Go Team GB!

5 Things Olympic Opening Ceremonies Always Have …

Now we know how the 2012 opening ceremony is going to start, what’s going to come next? Having watched one or two of these before, there seems to be a pattern going on. So what are 5 things every opening opening ceremony always features?

1. A child

Forget all the problems of the past, the host nation is always much more innocent-seeming when figured as a child. There’s always one there hanging the narrative together: remember the little girl on the beach in Sydney 2000? The “Child of Light” in Salt Lake City 2002? The little boy in the paper boat in Athens 2004? Even the little girl who needed a body double in Beijing?

2. History

An Olympic opening ceremony is always an opportunity to tell a story about the host nation’s rise to fame. But history fans watch out: it tends to be a very selective story. Witness the version of Greek history presented in Athens 2004 – most of the time spent on the ancients, then quick as flash we’re up to date!

3. Multiculturalism

Olympic host nations are always very inclusive societies – rich, varied but ultimately united in their passion to stage the games. Even if history would tell another story, which is probably the reason they think up this ruse in the first place. Examples? What about the Australian Aborigines being met by the aforementioned child in Sydney or the Native American tribes in Salt Lake City?

4. Technology

Opening ceremonies are a big advertisement for the host nation being a major player in the global economy. Remember the suspended spinning cube in Athens? Of course, Beijing was all about technology. And if you can fit in the discipline of a mass choreographed display you have the added advantage of touting your national workforce for jobs in a passing global franchise.

5. Parade of nations

Of course this is what it’s all about. Here we can see who are the biggest and best, and who is small but plucky. The rest of the games are pretty much redundant after this bit. But it brings a tear to the eye …

 

Britain’s Got Olympic Talent!

Last night I engaged in dialogue on the subject of Britain’s Got Talent with a cultural historian of leisure. We exchanged feverish texts as Grumpy and I sat watching the finale  – who will win? The Streetdancing St Trinians? The dog? The Sad Singing Boy? Grumpy had his money on The Loveable Rogues, if you are wondering.

It was the dog what won. Of course. What might have been more interesting, however, for us observers of Olympification was the routine by Aquabatique, the synchronised swimming quartet made up of former Olympians. At one point, I am sure that they rendered the 2012 logo through the medium of aquatic dance. Check it out, and tell me I’m wrong:

It’s the logo, right?

It had all the elements of Olympic fun. It makes you think, wouldn’t it have been easier to just have the Olympics in BGT format? The representatives of different sports could come on, and we could vote on who we thought was most entertaining? Simon Cowell would stump up the prize money. Sorted.

A Victory for Globalisation of Doping Control

Chambers fighting his case in previous years - when he wasn't successful

In an acronym-fuelled controversy, the BOA (British Olympic Association) has lost its case against WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) at CAS (Court for Arbitration in Sport). Debates so far have focused on whether a lifetime ban on selection to the Olympic team for doping offences (which the BOA has insisted on) was fair to athletes. They may have done the crime, but they’ve done their time, the argument goes. That’s two years’ time. Then they can be selected again, says WADA.

The mission of WADA has been to globalise anti-doping policies, even putting pressure on governments to change the laws on drug offences aimed at the general population. They are in business to make sure that we are all made constantly aware of the problem of doping, and that the solution lies solely with their draconian testing regime. Apparently, there will be 5,000 drug tests at London 2012. How much will that cost? How much does it cost also to monitor every elite athlete 365 days a year and subject them to random testing? Is it worth the money (and a level of invasion of privacy that would be unimaginable for any other section of society)? Let’s see: at Daegu last summer, every athlete was tested and not one was found positive. Is that a success, or a monumental failure? Impossible to know – it depends what spin you want to put on it.

If there are no athletes testing positive, WADA says that justifies spending vast sums on its monitoring procedures. If athletes do test positive, WADA says that justifies spending vast sums on its monitoring procedures. Then they impose a two year ban, and after that the athlete returns to Olympic competition as normal.

So why the excessive monitoring and then the paltry bans? Is it because WADA are trying to keep everybody happy? They want to give sport a drug free image for governments, health agencies, advertisers, but they don’t want to damage the industry of record breaking sports performances that keep us spending our scant world resources on spectacular sporting competitions. A lifetime ban gets in the way of that one.

There are many sides to this debate, but on this issue, the BOA seems to have a bit more integrity than WADA. Now, whether we should be punishing the individual athletes for an institutionalised problem at all, that’s a different matter….

Olympic anxiety

What is it about the Olympics that worries you? This week many of us silently celebrated the 100-days-to-go milestone by completing London 2012’s online survey to help them

gather information in order to provide the best possible experience for spectators

only to be greeted with a question that sought to interrogate our worries about the forthcoming Olympics. What, asked Neilsen, the company that London 2012 have hired to do their market research, do you have concerns about (select all that apply)? I can tell you that, although prior to completing this question, my concerns were pretty much at zero, with every option they gave, my trepidation steadily built.

Even the first option

nothing – no concerns

worried me – was I being stupid? No concerns – you can’t be serious? Then they gave us a list of potential worries – each one making me imagine a new fear. For example: mobility issues for the elderly or those with disabilities. Well, probably I should be worried about that – I am aware from looking at the disabled access icons on the London Underground map that the ancient tube system is practically inaccessible to disabled travellers. This contrasts somewhat with the build up to the Paralympics games. On a different note, today I was promised the opportunity to win 1000s of Paralympics tickets if I spent more than 50 quid at Sainsburys. I won 50p off a bottle of Coke instead.

Back to the survey and the next possible source of anxiety: was I worried about my food and drink options being rubbish or too expensive? Well, probably. Was I worried about overcrowding – well yes, that is what we have been promised: “sell out”, I believe, is the term.

The next one took the biscuit: “tickets being too expensive or hard to obtain”. Is that a worry or a fact? Are you telling me that the months of complicated lottery allocation procedures for the promise of a cheap ticket that finally revealed the lucky winners were the ones who bid the price of their house for a couple of front row handball preliminaries  was not a reality? Am I just being paranoid when I think that yes, the tickets were hard to obtain?

Then the worry options listed accommodation, ticket touting, interruption to daily life, as well as the biggie – cost to the city/UK and taxpayers. Yes, I am a little concerned about that. I think you would have to be mad not to be in the age of austerity, when we will gladly cut benefits to the poor/disabled/elderly/children but build a massive sports park in East London.

Was I worried about poor sportsmanship or disappointing performances? Was I worried about transport around London or transport to London (they had it in bold like that). What about traffic congestion? Parking? Bad seats? Long queues? Had I thought about expensive prices and a lack of alternative entertainment? Was I worried I would miss out on something because of lack of information? Was I worried about safety and security issues? Protesters? Poor signposting? The weather?

One of the options even asked me if I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on enough Olympic merchandise. I can tell you now – that was not one of my concerns. John Lewis has stocks and stocks of those mini cyclops things but I still do not want to buy one.

So what is this? I was going about my business not being particularly concerned about anything, then someone comes along and makes me feel that I should be worried about all kinds of things I hadn’t even thought of! Is it all part of the build up? Are these little frissons of fear part of the spectacle? Do they want us to be worried? Is this Olympics affect?