I want to draw attention to something particular regarding the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award 2012. It’s best encapsulated in this tweet from Sunder Katwala, who is director of the British Future thinktank:
Difficult to see what more Rory McIlroy could have done for #SPOTY bid; apart from doing it in a non-Olympic year
I love the suggestion that sports people might ‘bid’ for the Sports Personality of the Year trophy, as if it is an Oscar nomination or Presidential campaign that must be plotted and strategised years in advance. The humour lies in the idea that winning a world championship or a gold medal is simply a false peak, a means to an end, with the ultimate pinnacle actually being that little trophy of an old-style TV camera, on a polished wooden stand. Continue reading British Humour, Under Achievement, and the Sports Personality of the Year→
A final thought on the Olympics. It was a giant middle-finger towards the terrorists, wasn’t it?
I remember that week in 2005 very well. As well as the announcement confirming we had won the Olympic bid, that week in July also saw the G8 protests at Gleneagles and Edinburgh, and the Make Poverty History events, also centred in Scotland, that culminated in the Live 8 concerts. There was a real sense of political momentum, a feeling of people power, and for once, and absence of the usual cynicism associated with politics. I was living in Edinburgh at the time, and attended several of the events, including the Make Poverty History march around the city. We all wore white, and from the air the crowds formed a white ring that resembled the plastic wrist bands that had become the emblem of the movement.
And then four idiots spoiled everything. (I have written before – on the first anniversary of 7/7, actually – about what an act of deflation that was. The constructive political ‘moment’ around G8 was destroyed by their actions, and the country and the government fell back into fear and reactionary politics).
We know that the aim of the four terrorists, and those who assisted them, was to sow division within our society. It would be wrong to ascribe to them a consistent ideology, but their confused brand of fundamentalist Islam was at odds with cosmopolitan London and multicultural, multi-racial Britain.
The fact that Londoners and tourists alike continued to use the London underground system was an immediate retort to their actions. The fact that the party that they spoiled on 7th of July 2005 was reformed as a celebration of modern Britain during these recent Olympic Games, is also something to be proud of. The success of the games is the most eloquent possible response to their actions (a complete ‘pwnage’ in modern digital parlance). That the person who emerged as the darling of these games was a Somali born, British Muslim man comfortable in his nationality and faith, makes the refutation of the terrorist ideology all the more complete.
I hope that other disaffected young men like Mohammed Siddique Khan and his group Will have seen these Olympics and realised that there are other paths to follow. Perhaps the Mo-Bot and the cheeky smiles of the Games Makers are together a more effective counter-terrorist measure than detaining people without trial could ever be.
One thing that should be analysed when thinking about success of the Olympics is the broadcast. We should remember that for most people, the entire Olympic experience was mediated by the BBC. I think there is general agreement that they did excellent job – at least, a much better performance than during the Jubilee celebrations! This is obviously because it plays to the BBC’s strengths, reporting breaking news as it happened. Listening to the Olympic coverage on Radio 5 Live was not that different from listening to their usual Saturday afternoon coverage of Football League matches – and I mean that as a conpliment. That broadcast team in particular are already very experienced at juggling several outside broadcast units and reporters on location.
The corporation also did a good job at explaining the rules of many of the obscure sports to novice viewers.
Let us not forget that the BBC did have help from the Olympic Broadcast Service. This is a group of international broadcasters who together deliver the actual Olympic coverage (i.e. making sure we see people cross the line, not making sure Clare Balding interviews them afterwards). Apparently the BBC was directly responsible for the rowing coverage, but the athletics was actually project managed by the Finnish broadcasters!
All this coverage was enhanced by some fantastic advances in digital technology. There were under water cameras in the swimming pool, boom cameras sweeping over action in the stadia, and cameras on wires tracking the action from above. There were ultra slow motion replays too, all of which led to an immersive experience.
So, what should we learn from all this? Well, obviously we can hope that TV sports coverage will improve across the board. Many of the clever techniques used during the Olympics should be deployed in other, domestic coverage.
But that is not what interests me. I am more interested in how the BBC (as by far the biggest broadcaster in the UK) can help to facilitate grassroots sport. If we accept the premise that much of the enthusiasm for previously obscure sports has come due to increase broadcast exposure, then the BBC could give those same sports a permanent structural boost by simply devoting more coverage to them all year round.
They can do this in two ways: first they can simply send cameras and reporters to cover major sporting events (they may need to do this anyway, to fill the airtime gaps left in the schedules as Premiership football and other highly popular sporting events are snapped up by Sky, Setanta, and ESPN).
Second, they can also do this by improving their online presence, to allow greater crowd sourcing and audience reporting of sporting events. This would enable them to provide coverage of regional and local sports – not just athletics and gymnastics, but non-league football and youth football as well. This will link the broadcaster’s output with communities and the localities that BBC is meant to serve, and should also inspire greater participation, and more people coming out to spectate. In this way, the Olympic spirit that the BBC generated over the past two weeks may be bottled and disseminated to local sports fields and even schools. Continue reading How the BBC Could Help Increase Participation in Sports→
Another popular comment on the London Olympics is the idea that we should host them every year! That would certainly give a boost to team GB athletes but I am not sure other countries would agree!
this sentiment actually misses the point. The Olympics are about internationalism. Part of the reason London 2012 has been so delightful is because the event is part of a larger narrative: We are sandwiched between the might of Beijing and the sexiness of Rio.
We do host major international sporting events every year, for example, the Premier League or the London Marathon. These contests are televised globally and draw an audience, but the particular atmosphere generated by the Olympics is founded on the fact they are a one off.
I had meant to write a post about the Olympics opening ceremony, and what it says about Britain. That was two weeks ago. During which time, we have had pretty much the entire Olympics, and seen some fantastic performances from British athletes. There has been a predictable debate all over the media, blogs, and Twitter, about the nature of Britishness and multiculturalism. Although such subjects are a staple of this blog, I do rather feel as if most of the things I believe have been said by others elsewhere! I consider this to be a good thing – it means there is a growing consensus in favour of the kind of diversity I believe in.
There is still work to be done however. In particular, I am not sure how in-depth the conversation about to Multiculturalism has been. On super Saturday, when Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all won gold medals, there was a lot of *literally* skin-deep chat. “Ennis is mixed race. Rutherford is ginger. Farah is black. Look at our diversity! Up yours, BNP!” This feels shallow. What I did not see much of, was a discussion of how their diverse backgrounds had contributed to the success of the athletes. At its best, celebrating multiculturalism is not just about identifying difference. It is about showing how those different traits, faiths, and cultural practices, all contribute to ‘make the man’ (or woman). It is not enough to simply point out that Farah is a Muslim; one has to ask whether his faith has contributed to his astonishing success. And if it has – how? Likewise with Greg Rutherford’s upbringing, or Jessica Ennis experience. Continue reading Thoughts on the Olympics I: Diversity and Multiculturalism→
It’s Wednesday evening and we’re on the Victoria Line. A young man strums a guitar and sings while his friend harmonises. Their refrain is “You mean the world to me” and I don’t know whether that’s a popular song in the charts that I have never heard, or of it is their own composition. I hope the latter.
The train pulls into Stockwell Station, where Jean Charles De Menezes was shot dead by CO5 officers. It is also the interchange with the Northern Line, so we get up to leave.
In quick succession, two images drift into my eye-line and draw my attention for the same reason. First, there is a photograph in the Evening Standard of an athlete in Team GB colours, her surname pinned to her chest. It is Lynsey Sharp, the Scot who has qualified for the final of the 800 metres.
I think the strangest example of compulsive documentation is the bizarre need we feel to photograph events that are definitely going to be documented anyway. The athletes filming the Opening Ceremony from within the parade last week is a great example of this. I was very taken with this at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Games and took a really bad photo of the athletes filming the crowd during that ceremony.
And I’ve noted this oddness before, when thousands took photos of the 2008 Presidential inauguration, Malia Obama among them. In these actions, (entirely superfluous in the age of the mass media), we see the audience authenticating their own experience. “I was there and I took my own pictures to prove it.”. It’s the digital equivalent of picking a pebble off a beach – banal in itself, but imbued with meaning and sentiment for the one who took it. Continue reading Flashes, Camcorders, and Compulsive Documentation at the #Olympics→