Friday, 27 July 2012

The Olympics - Fun and Games?

Tonight, the lights go up and the UK opens its doors to the world's oldest, and greatest sporting event - The Olympic Games. But what does it mean for the sports and the athletes that represent them?

Before I get onto sport I must start with the laughing stock that LOCOG has become. If you've missed the talking points, where on earth have you been?? Due to overwhelmingly, laughably strict regulations on sponsorship and advertising, LOCOG and the companies it represents, have reversed a manageable situation into a PR nightmare. McDonalds for example have paid to be the official food provider? Anyway, that's fine. It's a bit odd having a sporting event which involves the world's elite athletes, paired with a chain of fast food restaurants, but its a free market! When this is a problem however is when the a builder is asked to remove the Greggs wrapping from his pasty in case the news channels catch a glimpse. Seriously. The overly strict measures have encouraged unsurprising responses; Paddy Power for example pushing the boundaries in every conceivable way.

Or how about the banner below that went viral very, very quickly. Simple. Ambush marketing tactics have been adopted by the likes of Nike as well. 

Now I understand why these regulations are in place - the official sponsors plunge a vast amount of money into the Olympics and they need to be convinced to do so.
     After London 2012 however, I wonder whether these providers will need more convincing as to whether the sponsorship of the Olympics is indeed a worthwhile investment. Aside from the billions they spend to be a sponsor. Is the Olympic footfall and exposure (which let's face it is probably unnecessary for many sponsors) enough to counter-act the damage to brand image that many sponsors are experiencing?

The exclusivity of pairing with the Olympics is obviously a tempting proposition. However, given the PR issues these companies are facing, LOCOG would be well advised to consider alternative, less invasive restrictions ahead of Rio 2016.

But what about for some of the sports involved? For the development of Women's football I believe the Olympics means a great deal. An extended run in the tournament could see Women's football recognised as a far more prominent part of the commercial sporting Britain. It would bring the whole UK to their feet in cheer and support for British women's football. The emotional importance to this link cannot be underestimated. Opposing that however is the prospect of failure, and whilst not harming the development of the Women's game in Britain a great opportunity would have been missed. So in that respect there is a great deal of pressue on the women's football team to represent not only their country, but their sport.

I read the news that Gareth Bale had exaggerated his injury to avoid playing in Olympics, not with surprise, but sadness and anger. The actions of Bale is simply the tip of an iceberg that simply devalues the Olympics - "The World's Greatest Sporting Event". In my opinion, sports such as football and tennis should be dropped from the Olympics. Sports where the Olympics is not viewed as the pinnacle should remain separate. The British view the World Cup as the biggest footballing stage; Wimbledon as the Tennis equivalent. Is Andy Murray psyched about playing in the Olympics? Is Craig Bellamy? Those that are excited are the younger players, or those from countries that would view the World Cup as a distant dream. If either of these groups had a shot at Wimbledon or the World Cup, would the Olympics pale into insignificance? Unfortunately the answer is probably yes. For runners, jumpers, throwers, swimmers, cyclists and many more, the Olympics is the pinnacle. The outstanding stage that they train for years to reach. The stage should be saved for these people, not those that join the bandwagon to boost viewing figures.
     The Olympics offers a platform for an expansion of interest. In my old sport, athletics, there is a potential for a sport that has slid from public attention, in as dramatic a way as county cricket, to be rejuvenated. All it takes is for success - Jess Ennis perhaps, or Holly Bleasedale. For one moment, the attention of Britain, and the world will be on them. Success results in interest. In youngsters wanting to imitate heros. Maybe Adam Gemili? Not necessarily winning, but perhaps making the final or running under 10 seconds. These moments, and events, are once in a lifetime and the knock-on effect is potentially staggering. In a similar way to Women's Football, a strong performance from Team GB athletics team can inspire generations, and put the sport of athletics centre stage once again. A weak performance and athletics risks further falling away from public attention. No pressure...
     I've focussed on these sports, not because they are the most significant, absolutely not; but because they are where my knowledge base lies.

Whatever happens at the Olympics; be it a flag-based fiasco irritating the one country one would advise not to piss-off, or the return of the wettest year in record. British cynicism doesn't endure events like these. The country will get behind it, and make it The Greatest Show on Earth.

Let the Games begin!

P.S All comments encouraged!

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