London Blog: Inspiration and perspiration

By Professor Kristine Toohey,

in London for the Olympics


Blog, August 17: In the end…

Now the Olympic Games are over the sporting world’s attention will turn to the Paralympics.

If they are as successful as these Games then Londoners will be in for another great sport fest.

As Roy and HG have argued: ‘too much sport is never enough’.

Many of my friends enjoy ‘the Paras’ more and claim they embody the Olympic spirit more than their abled counterpart.

Some Paralympic officials claim, tongue in cheek, that the Olympic Games are a ‘test event’ to iron out the wrinkles before the Paralympians take the stage.

This time there haven’t been too many wrinkles to iron out- at least on the sporting field. Even the ticket and security guard shortage crises seemed to disappear from the news as the British team won more medals.

The late call up of armed forces personnel at the security checkpoints has turned out to be a great public relations godsend for them, a boon after negative reaction to their involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

The Closing Ceremony officially ended the Games. It is unfair to compare it to the Opening Ceremony as its budget is smaller, there is far less opportunity to rehearse in the venue, athletes are usually in party mode on the stadium floor, public expectations of finishing the Games with a blast are also high, and many spectators are exhausted from Olympic hospitality excesses of the last two weeks.

Nevertheless, comparisons between the two ceremonies are often made and usually the Closing Ceremony earns the silver medal.

So, too, in London’s case. George Michael sang one song too many, or suffered from a poor choice for his second song. Instead of energising people staying up to watch the event, which began at 9pm, he provided a soporific.

Ray Davies’ voice is not what it used to be. Pity. Neither is his hair, so why did he try to pretend it was?

On a more serious note, the scheduled unveiling of the four athletes elected by their peers during the Games to the IOC Athletes Commission was a notable absence for those who know their IOC protocol.

It turns out that the election has not gone to plan with claims of Japanese bribes (providing lollipops to athletes) and that the Australian contender, James Tomkins, somehow used our boxing kangaroo mascot to influence the outcome. Olympic politics is alive and well. Enough said.

Quite rightly, given London organisers’ claims, their scoreboard will turn to rating the success of their promised legacy of ‘inspiring a generation’.

Officials and politicians are talking it up now. Boris is on the case today, but there is little if reliable evidence of any past ‘trickle down’ Olympic effects.

It is oft cited that Thomas Edison claimed that ‘genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration’. In the case of any Games sporting legacy, for any perspiration to occur on the sport field, there will have to be more than just inspiration.

The London 2012 dream of increased sport participation will require government policy, programming and ongoing funding far past this great 16 days of elite sport. It should already have begun in earnest.

Griffith student and bronze medal winner Bronwen Knox

Blog, August 13: Australia’s great expectations

Australia’s national identity is rightly or wrongly closely associated with sport.

So, every four years, we rejoice in our Olympic success or lament our failure and apportion blame for our athletes’ performances. This Games is no different.

We strangely extrapolate all manner of things about being Australian from competing in sport against other countries, when, after all, at its basis, sport is an athletic performance (hopefully not drug assisted).

Our Australian Olympic Committee volunteer tee shirts were printed with the message “we are back to steal your gold”. This was a bold and cheeky statement and one that I’m sure some marketing staff now regret.

In the last week or so it would be a brave Australian volunteer who displayed the shirt anywhere in the UK, especially now that Team GB’s performance has been so spectacular.

There are a number of reasons for the British success. Certainly, the UK lottery money that has been channelled into elite sport in the last few years has assisted.

Home team victories translate into a Games being seen as successful for the home country. This, in turn, has resulted in the British media being dominated by feel-good stories about their athletes. It is the most positive press over here that I have experienced.

Additionally, after the ticket and transport problems of the first few days have died down, there have not been organisational issues for the press to dissect. Overall, this has been an exceptionally well organised event.

Back home it’s a different story.

The Australian press is busy reporting on AOC President John Coates’ view of our team’s performance.

He is calling for compulsory sport in schools and many are seeing this as a backflip for a man who has constantly and vigorously called for increased funding to elite sport.
But is it really a backflip?

Coates’ suggested change could be funded through state education budgets, rather than through federal funding, where, in the past, the battle for federal dollars has been framed between elite sport funding and funding for recreational sport.

Why does it have to be an ‘either or’ debate?

The performance of Australians here in London has not lived up to AOC and others’ expectations- but how realistic were they in their predictions?

What do we expect of our country on the international sport stage?

Perhaps, the problem lies not in the 2012 Australian Olympic athletes’ performances but how we have constructed our national identity.

Blog, August 9: A different kind of training

While the Olympics hit the final straight, London is also going about its normal business.

This balance is a challenge for all Olympic cities but especially so for London, because of its role as a global finance and business centre.

Transport on the underground is coping better than predicted. It seems because many workers are adopting flexible work arrangements.

The loud messages about avoiding traveling in peak times or to and from certain stations from Lord Mayor Boris Johnson no longer boom from loudspeakers as you enter tube stations. I am grateful for the respite.

Nevertheless, at times the tube can be incredibly crowded and figures indicate that they system is carrying more passengers than on a normal day.

Mayor Boris was right to warn us.

Yesterday, with the spectators returning home after the triathlon, some stations were not allowing commuters entry because of overcrowding. This was the busiest I have seen London so far.

Overall, most people on foot seemed to cope, but many disregarded road rules. I saw a number of drivers becoming quite frustrated by jaywalkers blocking their lanes.

The were some verbal exchanges, but I didn’t see any physical road rage. The sheer number of pedestrians made them bolder and less concerned about their safety.

Or perhaps it was the ongoing euphoria of yet another victory for team GB.

Once the crowds abated I hopped on a train and it was the normal underground scene. Every carriage has priority seats. These are meant to be vacated for less able commuters.

However, in my observations, these are usually occupied by young adults who must be affected by some intermittent sleeping disorder.

Immediately they grab the seat, their eyes close but somehow they miraculously wake up at their station. Amazing. I’ve seen the same in other large cities around the world, so it’s not just a London thing or an Olympic syndrome.

Griffith Business graduate and Olympic marathon runner Michael Shelley

Blog, August 7: The Olympic Village

The Olympic Village is one of the most important parts of any Games but one that the public gets only a rare insight to.

It’s where the athletes live, eat and sleep.

Since the 1972 Munich Olympic games and the attack by Black September terrorists that resulted in the death of Israeli athletes, the Olympic Village also has been one of the most heavily secured of the Olympic venues.

It is also a haven for the athletes away from the pressure of crowds of spectators and journalists.

I was able to secure a day accreditation pass to the village through an Olympic official for a rare wander through the inner sanctum.

There are two different sections.

The international section allows press and visitors who have the correct accreditation to mingle with athletes.

Then there’s the more secure section where visitors must be escorted at all times.

In here you find the incredibly large dining hall and the selection of dishes allows most athletes to feel they are eating food just as they used to at home.

And that includes McDonald’s, believe it or not, for those who have finished their competition … or not.

Athletes roam freely here and it was great to see them talking to each other rather than tweeting to the masses.

Currently it is Ramadan, the annual Muslim fasting period.

While the athletes observing Ramadan have some flexibility on choosing whether or not to fast during this time, the officials I talked to were strictly observing the sunrise to sunset fast.
Further into the Village, the athletes’ living quarters provided an insight into how politics has impacted the games.

Many countries’ quarters were festooned with their national flags or other emblems.

Australia’s had three emus out the front.

The US quarters were not identifiable.

The Israeli team’s building had armed guards at the entrance.

The apartments are going to be sold after the Games as part of the legacy of revitalising east London.

It’s a year since the London riots, some of which occurred about 30 minutes away from the Olympic village.

Being in this brand new environment it seemed that the distance was much greater.

Blog, August 4: Opposite sides of the Olympic coin

While tickets are still a hot topic of Olympic discussion here in London, there are other matters that have captured the public’s attention.

First, the amazing performance of swimmer Ye Shiwen has again raised the question of doping in sport, especially when an athlete’s results improve dramatically.

The allegations were initially aired by an American coach who questioned the reasons behind Ye’s results.

This, in turn, led to the Chinese response of American racism as the basis for the allegations and veiled counter allegations of past US doping. And so it goes on.

Doping is a scourge on sport for many reasons.
It is against the current rules of sport and gives an unfair advantage to the users. It can adversely affect an athlete’s health.

Some countries have systemically used doping (without athletes’ knowledge) to boost their medal tally above that of their political opponents.

Drug testing is now a compulsory part of an elite athlete’s regime… and an additional expense to sport.

But drug tests lag behind the latest performance enhancing drugs for a period of time. It’s always catch up for the testers.

Then, there’s been the opposite standard of performance here by the badminton players, who have deliberately tried to lose matches to manipulate their standings and thus determine their opponents in the quarter final round.

At this point, the eight players responsible have been sent home, many spectators who paid to see their matches are unhappy, badminton officials are in damage control mode and concerned about their sport’s Olympic future.

For globally minor sports like badminton, being in the Games is important.

While badminton might receive television coverage in some countries, the Olympics provide their only opportunity for real global coverage.
Thus, it is imperative for the sport’s popularity and growth, as well as the financial rewards that result from being an Olympic sport, that badminton remains on the Games’ program.
It pays to be an Olympic sport.

There are many other sports that would love to take badminton’s place in the Games.

Currently, Olympic officials don’t want the Games to grow any further in terms of the number of events or athletes, so it’s not a matter of just adding a sport to the program.

It is a matter of replacing a sport.
Badminton’s reputation has been sullied, just as Ye’s has been by extremes of performance.

Badminton’s because of performances that were deliberately substandard, Ye’s because of a result that was so good that many can’t believe is possible without doping.

One is proven, the other not.

The Ancient Greeks, the founders of the Olympic Games, talked about the beauty and virtues of the ‘Golden Mean’.

Given the above, it seems in 2012 this can still apply in the Modern Olympic Games.

Being in the middle at a Games is not going to win you a gold medal but it may mean your sport stays on the Olympic program.

Blog, August 2: Ticket solution commonsense
There are many sides to an Olympic games.

Of course there’s the sport, but there’s also the sponsor hospitality, the media, and of course the organisation.

Any event of this size is going to have some organizational glitches.

And when London Games organizers don’t get it exactly right the media here seem to revel in their mistakes. Sometimes without cause or consequence.

But with Olympic tickets there has been a positive outcome. Ticketing is one of the hardest things to manage at a major sporting event, especially one that sells out in the more popular sessions, such as swimming (which has far less seats than in the stadium).

So, before the games when there is a ticket lottery, those who miss out on their preferred options can be disappointed.

This disappointment turns into frustration when the TV coverage shows empty seats in the Olympic family/sponsor/press areas. That has happened here.

At first LOCOG (the organisers) defended the no-shows, but now has bowed to pressure and will allow the public some access to the empty seats.

That is a significant change from past games, where the issue has also arisen, but where either the seats remained empty and the public frustration remained or ‘ring-ins’ were brought in to make it appear that these (often the best seats) were being utilized by the VIPs.

This change to allow access to previously off limit seats is a significant step forward.

Often the Olympic Movement has remained aloof from public or even media pressure. Here they have listened.

Whether it was the media clamour, both in social media or the press, or the realisation that it was not an image that was going to enhance their public appeal in the 21st century, is anyone’s guess, but the result is significant in terms of Olympic organisers’ understanding the importance of their image.

Empty seats that the public expect to be filled with sports’ key officials is not the message they want to send to the world.

So hopefully now the press will focus their attention elsewhere, there will be greater access for spectators, and there will a precedent for ticket allocation at future Olympic Games.

July 31, London Blog: No noise please, we’re British

It must be a British thing but the crowds are so incredibly polite at the London 2012 Olympics.

Went to beach volleyball yesterday. Despite the extremely long queues to get in everyone in line was very orderly and pleasant, no pushing or shoving.

Once seated, the crowd was the most sedate for beach volleyball that I have encountered. They are usually an exuberant and raucous group, but what we got was far more polite clapping.

Again the culture of the British was in evidence.

But everyone enjoyed themselves. People near me were even requesting sunscreen from anyone who had it. (The sun was a bonus for the bikini clad dancers who come on in the breaks).

I saw that reserved UK nature again on show at the “live site” in Hyde Park.

Again a very sedate crowd, many who left after the music and before the swimming came on the big screen. Curious. It will be interesting to see if it changes over the games.

After the Brits, Australians seemed to be the next largest group out in force. Even saw a young man with a hat with corks. He’d be lucky to find a fly at the moment.

As far as the running of the Games goes, probably the most frustrating aspect for visitors is being given wrong information when asking directions.

And the security is tighter than at many airports. We even had to take off our watches.

The security detail on duty were all from the military – called in at the last minute. No one from G4S in sight.

Once inside the security was far less obvious.

So were volunteers in my area. Many were loitering around the “IOC Family” seating area, which was pretty much empty, but not one near row 41 which was full.

Griffith teaching graduate and boxing semi-finalists Jeff Horn

July 27, London Blog: Olympic fever hits
OLYMPIC fever has hit and we are all looking forward to the Opening Ceremony.

We went to the Australian Olympic team reception last night and it was interesting to note the number of A-listers in attendance from home and from London. Johnny Farnham was the entertainer with his band. (Of course there was a bagpiper for “Your The Voice”).

The athletes walked from the village to the reception venue in West fields. Shoppers lined the footpath to see the team pass by.
Lauren Jackson announced as flag bearer for Australia was a good choice among so many talented contenders.

All looking good for tomorrow.

Hope no more political gaffes. I’m sure every venue is checking they have matched the correct flag and country now. The Korean flag incident is not a good start, but in 1956 in Melbourne we raised the wrong Chinese flag!

The press is all over the flag problem, just like the security issue. But the preparations have been really fantastic so it is a pity these problems are emerging just now.

If the opening ceremony is well received then I think little hiccups will be forgotten. We will see.

We have now outfitted all the Australian team and officials. So much gear. Over 100,000 pieces of kit shipped over.

The athletes were so excited and respectful during the process. But now we have to start packing up the overage stock.

And you know, as much as I feel in the middle of it all here, London is so large that in the suburbs it’s life as normal. It’s not until you get near the stadium that it hits. It’s already like the Olympics have begun with athletes everywhere.

Biggest problem so far as a visitor is not security but transport and the heat isn’t helping.

* Professor Kristine Toohey works in Griffith Business School’s Department of Tourism, Lesiure, Hotel and Sport Management. She worked with SOCOG during the 2000 Sydney Olympics and is volunteering for the AOC in London. She wrote her blogs during the 2012 Olympics