I scribbled an opinion feature for the Sunday Times on the Olympic hoo-ha, which fell by the wayside. I think it addressed the issues that had been missed as euphoric rapture asphyxiated the nation and completely overshadowed the Olympic scale of the Chinese Olympics propaganda.
In the rush to enjoy Team GB’s Olympic success, let’s not forget that the Beijing Olympics was a huge triumph for the Chinese regime. Many of the issues that left a lot of people feeling a little uneasy prior to the sporting orgy of the last few weeks were steamrollered as the Chinese PR juggernaut gathered speed.
This weekend, there was a huge amount of expectation limitation going on via the LOGOG spin machine. There can be little doubt that the seemingly endless war chest the Chinese threw at the opening and closing ceremonies will be impossible for London to match in 2012.
The Chinese threw trillions at the games; London’s budget simply cannot match that, so we are now being sold the concept of London’s “intimate games”; a sound bite that is echoing around the press as the media comes to terms with the approaching reality of the London Olympics.
Let’s face it, if Team GB had not won so many medals, would we have been as forgiving about the dreadful mess that masqueraded as a handover moment? The eight minutes of choreographed nonsense around a red Double Decker bus was truly appalling. I hope the various quangos in place will have the ability to network with the folk that can deliver extraordinary creativity on a budget. So far the London Olympic logo and the Millennium Dome fiasco are not great indicators that the powers entrusted with large-scale events are great bets.
Of course, the group who won the bid should be applauded, but the hard work begins today. This country boasts world-renowned performance companies, all capable of producing something wondrous, but will they be approached, I wonder? I have a sneaking feeling that they may not be. I hope that I am wrong and the likes of Cultural Industry, Art Angel, Artichoke, Improbable, Melly Still, Punch- drunk, Frantic Assembly as well as Michael Morris, Alex Poots, Tom Morris, Lucy Neal and Rose Fenton are on the list. The arts in Britain are used to operating on a budget, and will have to get more acquainted with budgeting as the Olympics and the credit crunch loom, so I hope that they will be rewarded in some way for their patience.
Spectacle can be produced from small component parts, after all – just take the Big Bang as an example.
Equally of concern are the British athletes. Will the momentum that Team GB built up be maintained? Will they be supported by the media in the coming years? Will the media traction they have built up in China be maintained?
The athletes of Team GB, from rowers to cyclists, sailors to swimmers and beyond, need the current focus on them to be kept in place. The public is likely to forget about them if they and their successors are not kept in the public eye. Much has been made of the empty head Z list evictees from the regular churn of reality TV, but now have a bunch of contemporary heroes who have some real achievement that need to be amplified; modern day Corinthians who have dedicated their lives to their sport.
Will they sell papers? That’s the million dollar question. Can interest in them be sustained? I do not want to take anything away from the quiet, assiduous work of the Welsh cycling medalist Nicole Cooke, for example, who took many by surprise when she won gold for the road race and spurred the rest of the cycling team on to great achievements, but will the media still support her when the Olympic torch dims. If all of Team GB are to do as well as everyone could possibly hope for them in 2012, new ways of keeping them alive in the public consciousness need to be found or their achievements will be largely forgotten in 15 months time. The Fame Formula at the end of my book can just as well be applied to sports stars – we have only to look at the Beijing Olympics to see that there is a wealth of talent that can be nurtured.
The real spectacle of the Olympics is, and should always be, the sporting prowess of a group of dedicated athletes competing. The opening ceremony should of course be joyful, but it is window dressing for the main event. London’s “intimate games” must not translate into an “intimate” amount of medals won.The next four years should be about nurturing, espousing and publicizing Britain’s sporting talent or, indeed, its less widely known artistic talent for the opening ceremony.
The “intimate games” should be such only because the British intimately know and are entirely behind each member of Team GB. Then we are likely to see a truly spectacular London Olympics, even if it has been delivered on a budget.