I am really looking forward to the Olympic Games. I’ve always enjoyed watching them on TV and since being a volunteer in Atlanta 1996 I have an even more positive outlook on the Olympics, because it is such much more than sports. It is about an entire world participating in one event, people from all over the world celebrating together, cultural events that are as vibrant as the sporting events.
Obviously there are always negatives before any major event, but London – in the international perception – has been seen as a positive example on how to organise events. There have always been complaints over the commercialisation of the Games - in1996 they were called the Coca Cola games. But I prefer this to the political misuse of the Olympic Games in Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984.
There have always been complaints about the transport and yes, I will surely wish for less people and swifter journeys when I’m there, but that it normal for any major event and as long as everybody keeps their good mood, we’ll be fine. And obviously as an organiser you can never win on security – if nothing happens, it’s too much, if something happens it’s too little. It is sad that the world has – and has had to a certain degree – become so much more paranoid. Before the bombing in Atlanta 1996, people could enter the Olympic Park without any checks. Afterwards, bags were searched. That seems pretty trivial compared to today, but it was also before 9/11. Nevertheless, the authorities received a good roasting by the press, first for being so lax, secondly for the queues that ensued. There are some topics in life that will never result in praise.
But the Olympics are also important for the hosting nation, in our case the UK. Sporting events are very important stages for nation branding as one of the areas of communicating a nation brand is through sport – internally as well as externally. Internally, it emphasises national identity and increases the sense of pride, ownership and belonging, externally, it provides the opportunity to raise awareness, challenge perception and increase knowledge about the nation brand: “While the immediate economic benefits may not always be evident (in some cases the cost of producing such spectacles may be greater than the immediate economic benefits), the exposure that the host nation receives ultimately translates into a variety of both tangible and intangible benefits. They may also help to educate the rest of the world about who you are, and what your country has to offer (Karakulouis, et. al, 2005, p.583).”
In companies, employees are the most important marketers, and within states, citizens are the most important ambassadors. As I said in my TEDx Talk ‘Treating employees like citizens’, during the Olympic Games, when dealing with visitors and presenting the UK to the world, the behaviour of every single UK citizen is more important than anything David Cameron says or does during the same period. This is especially true as many visitors can experience the country first hand and not through the eyes of the media, who will normally use sport events to differentiate between nations and call up and reinforced constructed traditions and stereotypes.
Being able to show your nation directly is even more important as it minimises the impact of media opinions of the nation: “Our conclusion is that, in some countries, global sports are being used to reassert an intense form of national identity in opposition to further European integration. In addition, sporting contests tend to reawaken “sleeping memories” and rekindle deeply laden national habitus codes (Maguire, et al., 1999, p.439). This is especially true, if the media wants to highlight the blight or perceived injustice from a minority and is mainly still trapped in an adversary culture that shows insecurities to foreign influences. And this is also the beauty of social media – we can engage on a citizen to citizen level and are not reliant on the interpretation of media or politicians. As grown-ups and self-determined individuals we can make up our own mind, thank you very much.
It is important that we take on these rights and responsibilities, especially during times like the Olympic Games, as the impact described above can only happen if visitors have a positive experience. If it is negative it has a huge potential to damage the UK and in general a nation brand, which is especially hazardous for established nation brands.
It also has to be said that the Olympics are not only important for the UK but for all participating nations. Sometimes we only see the individual performances of the athletes and we discount the wider effect on the countries of origin. Besides the host nation, the nation that produces the winners, the world record breakers and outstanding style are the main beneficiaries resulting in high prestige that can translate into cultural, political and economic benefits as well as enhancing national pride and therewith giving national identity a boost (Calgary Report, 1988; Johnston, 1985; Ritchie and Lyons, 1990; Ikbioya, 2001).
Ikbioya (2001, p.3) has identified six reasons why nations participate in the Olympics:
• Be known and recognised in terms of the nation’s unique attributes and status;
• Provide opportunities for political, social and economic diplomacy;
• Secure release from political, social, and economical problems – at least for the period the games last;
• Enhance image and credibility of national governments and their people;
• Be known as a sovereign and independent nation among other nations; and
• Show the world the nature and vibrancy of the nation’s youth – men and woman of unique and superior state and influence in terms of vitality and versatility.”
So the behaviour of every single one of us living here in the UK is as important as the behaviour of the athlete itself and in this sense performance goes way beyond the performance in the tournament. The majority of actual contact will happen outside the stadia. The supporters become ambassadors for their nations and influence how everybody perceives each other. After all, we all take part in these Games, so let’s perform to our best abilities.
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