Friday, August 10, 2012

My Olympics, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Learned to Love the Games

Here's where I have to admit that I called the Olympics wrong. In common with a few others I saw them approaching with a real sense of dread. That was for a number of reasons; the triumph that was Beijing (how could we compete with all those drummers?), the rickety nature of London's public transport (it can't even get Londoners home on a bad day, never mind millions of Olympic extras), the well known elitism of the IOC - an organisation that seems to be able to take over cities with more facility than the average armoured division.

I suspected I was wrong when I sat in front of the telly and saw the Geese at the opening ceremony. At that point I realised that something was up, and when the Queen parachuted in with Bond, well that was unforgettable, a work of utter genius. This was going not to be awful. It was going to be great.

As Keynes once remarked, when the facts change, I change my mind. So it was a case of banging the LOCOG website for tickets in common with half the UK population. People slagged off the site but really it stood up pretty well considering the millions of hits it must have been taking. We went to the Volleyball and wonder of wonder, bagged tickets for the Athletics by doing something deeply unpleasant to my Credit Card one evening.

The trick that LOCOG pulled off was to make the Games work on both levels, the big stuff like the venues, well designed and delivered on time, and also on the human scale - the volunteer staff, the catering and all the rest of the things that make a spectator event worth attending. The coverage was revolutionary in nature. Make no mistake the digital streaming of up to seventeen simultaneous events to mobile devices is a massive achievement and points the way to an exciting future for sports broadcasting.

Bolt in action on the Tuesday   credit:me
I wondered if I'd enjoy watching sports I don't normally pay to see. But instead I found I liked them more than the sport I normally pay to see. This was down to lots of things, but factors like the military doing the security was great - really two minutes from start to finish - the volunteers, who were everywhere and did a great job, and the enthusiasm of punters in the venues just lifted everything several notches above, say City v Stoke on a wet Wednesday evening.

People have been comparing footballers to the Olympic athletes and the country's most overpaid sportsmen are not coming out well. It's a bit facile to put the Olympic sporting festival next to football, which is in reality a fully fledged industry in our country, and one that pays its own way rather than relying on Lottery funding. But the spoilt and violent nature of some of the characters in the Premier League is in sharp contrast to the way the GB and other team members came over during the Games. The stark lesson for football players here, if they choose to absorb it, is that these are changed times and top footballers need to give more back - in the way they behave on and off the field. Some players, like Craig Bellamy, run charities that do great work but lets face it, he's very much an exception. The PR people who work with their pampered clients need to get a grip, because it may well be that the wind changed for football this summer.

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