As the 2012 Olympics begin, Prof. Kurt Huebner of the UBC Centre for European Studies discusses the mood in London, the political risks, and the opening ceremonies.
The opening ceremonies
For every Olympics, the opening ceremony serves as the business card. It’s an opportunity for host nations to update their cultural brand in the world. For many years there was this idea Cool Britannia, but that fell to the wayside around the time of the European Union. In many ways, this is the UK’s opportunity re-introduce itself to the world.
London will undoubtedly want to demonstrate its uniqueness from other nations, and particularly within Europe. But the challenge for organizers will be to reflect modern and diverse nation that is today’s Britain, rather than relying overly on cultural institutions from previous generations, such as Paul McCartney and David Beckham. It’s also an opportunity to frame the Games as belonging to all of the UK, and not just London.
How important are the Games for Britain?
The London Games come as the UK deals with recessions and cutbacks – so a certain level of unhappiness exists. Naturally, British Prime Minister David Cameron is hoping the Games go well enough to lift the national mood, as studies have shown sporting events can sometimes do. If Britain does well in the Games – they are targeting 48 medals – the public may be willing to overlook the huge amount of public money – nearly $15 billion (CDN) – funding the Games at a time when citizens are facing austerity and program cuts.
If the Games appear mismanaged or British athletes underperform, the questions about costs, benefits and it the long-term effects are likely to be much more pronounced. If you look at Britain’s GDP, the economic benefits have not been substantial, so far.
What’s the mood in London before the Games?
Olympics follow similar patterns. At the start it is always about costs and impacts on citizens: security measures, transportation issues and other restrictions. Like the residents of previous host cities, some Londoners are making sacrifices with bemused stoicism, while others view them as catastrophic inconveniences.
Find more UBC 2012 experts and story ideas at: www.ubc.ca/2012games.