The “Olympic Festival”: Sceptics Subdued – For The Moment:

Earl Warren, the former US Chief Justice & Governor of California, always “turned first to the sports pages when reading a newspaper”. Why? Because they “record people’s accomplishments” whereas  “the front page has nothing but man’s failures”. He would, therefore, presumably have approved of the massive coverage the British Press have given to the Olympic Games on their back, front and middle pages as well as in their special souvenir “London 2012” supplements. Not all the articles, of course, have been totally enthusiastic. On the contrary, until just a few days ago, many of the headlines focused far more on the £57 million demanded by G4S, the private company responsible for the “security debacle”, the confusion for London’s motorists caused by the “Olympic lanes” (restricted to VIPs, competitors and accredited media), bus drivers getting lost while taking international athletes from Heathrow Airport to the Olympic Village (all stories reported in the “Daily Telegraph) and the £9 billion expense for what Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins appears to regard as a “reckless extravaganza”. Indeed, he has portrayed the Olympic movement as having been “hijacked by commercial and nationalist ballyhoo”, is unconvinced by Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge that “British firms will win £13 billion in contracts” following the Games and has dismissed as “rubbish” London Mayor Boris Johnson’s “boast” that a million extra tourists will be “surging through the capital every day”.

Last week, however, the mood suddenly changed. In the “Daily Telegraph” of 21st July, commentator Jim White declared that “It’s Going To Be The Time Of Our Lives” and exhorted his readers not to listen to the “whingers” – instead, to “soak up the dramas and super-human performances of the Olympic athletes. It will be worth a few delays on the Tube”. His newspaper also confirmed that bakers would now be allowed to put the Olympic rings on their cakes and that the “logo police would be reined in”. The editorial in the Sunday Times on 22nd July acknowledged that “there is something uncomfortable about the bureaucracy and commercialism of the modern Olympics”, but also concluded that “If all goes well, as we hope they do, we should be proud. Let’s get the party started”. By the 26th July, even the Guardian’s attitude had undergone a notable transformation. One of their contributors, Martin Kettle admitted that he had been an “Olympisceptic” but that the torch relay – which, say LOCOG (the Games’ organisers), was witnessed by 13 million people during the 70 days it was carried around the UK – had convinced him that the London Olympics “are going to exceed the optimists’ highest hopes and confound the professional pessimists: Now is the time to sit back and enjoy the show”.

The Guardian’s editorial the next day asserted that “The whingers do not speak for Britain. A period of silence from them would be welcome” and furthermore that  “Most people feel good about the Olympics. They are right to do so”. The newspaper based this view on a survey, conducted jointly with the ICM research organisation, which revealed that around 26% of those questioned would watch Olympic events every day, 28% would be “tuning in every few days at least” and 32% “anticipate viewing just a couple of significant events, such as big finals or the Opening Ceremony”. By contrast “ a mere 13% of the British people want nothing to do with the Games”. The figures also indicated (as expected) that “interest is appreciably higher in the capital”: 30% of Londoners will be watching “every day” compared to 22% of those questioned in Wales and 25% in the north. In Scotland, 15% say they won’t be watching the Games at all. A similar poll in May suggested that almost 50% of consumers in the UK believed that the 2012 Olympics would “help the country boost its self-confidence” and that 10% of Londoners intended to buy a new TV to watch the Games”. Although the Guardian detected a sense in the country that “the next 17 days may actually be pretty wonderful”, it is also aware that some of its readers might quickly get fed up with the whole thing. As the writer Anna Heim has noted on “”, the newspaper will provide a facility for removing its Olympic coverage from its home page: “All you have to do is press the ‘Hide Olympics’ button and the Guardian’s dedicated Games tab will instantly disappear. Click ‘Show Olympics’ and it will bring it back”. Apparently this isn’t the first time they’ve made this option available: It was first introduced for the Royal Wedding in April 2011.

Despite even the success of the Opening Ceremony (described as “brilliant, breathtaking and bonkers” by the Daily Telegraph), some of the most adamant critics are unlikely to be won over. For the Independent’s James Lawton (28th July) “The hoopla cannot conceal the humbug and hypocrisy behind the London 2012 circus” and author Ian Sinclair (on the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme) depicted the Games as a “national hallucination, a brief fantasy uplifting us for a few moments”. According to “The Economist” magazine “The Olympics have turned from a celebration of a global city to a marketing pitch from an economy desperate for growth”. Although the Government might recoil at its characterisation as “desperate”, the Department For Culture, Media & Sport’s (DCMS) “Beyond 2012” publication  makes it unequivocally clear that the Games are being used to launch “The UK’s biggest ever marketing campaign” to enhance trade, investment and tourism. “Visit Britain” executives recognised at a London Media Centre press conference that there was a risk that such efforts could benefit the capital more than the rest of the country.  For Simon Thomas, owner of the Hippodrome Casino in Piccadilly, “The recession begins north of Watford”. He “wouldn’t contemplate opening a casino in (for example) Newcastle”: Not a comment which will endear him to the citizens of that city.




Filed under: Media, Sports | Posted on July 30th, 2012 by Colin D Gordon

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