As the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games fade into the distance, all eyes now turn to London to imagine what the 2012 Olympic Games will be like. What can be learned from Vancouver 2010 to ensure that London fulfills its potential over the next two years?
On the lead up to London 2012, there are four important aspects that the organizing committee must keep in mind, but which could easily be overlooked while getting bogged down in matters such as security and transportation.
The first consideration is to recognize that the Modern Olympic Games is much more than a sports event; it is a social movement. The IOC began as a means towards addressing important social concerns and commitments to these dimensions of its role are apparent in the Olympic Charter. Sport should always be central to its work, but they should also always be a means towards improving society.
Even when an Olympic Games seem to exacerbate social problems like homelessness, their occurrence shines a global light on the injustice, bringing it to the attention of a global community. Thus, many people will leave Vancouver aware of its neglected downtown eastside, made visible by the Olympic Tent Village. Yet, how will such issues be represented in the Games programme or its global media coverage?
One of the primary mechanisms to achieve global change is through the Olympic Truce, a programme ratified by the UN, which calls upon Heads of States to cease conflicts during the Olympic Games, to allow safe passage to athletes from around the world. At Vancouver, the Truce was not achieved and the USA even launched its most significant operation in Afghanistan since the campaign begun, just as the Games started. If London can do better to make the Olympic Truce work, then it has the chance of really changing history.
Second, the cultural dimensions of the Games time festival experience must be made central to the programme to ensure its legacy. Bringing people together from over 200 nations leads to remarkable amounts of collaboration across countries and this should be maximized through programmes that support such work. In Vancouver, the Cultural Olympiad had a great presence in the city, but work still needs to be done to bring sport closer to culture - and vice versa.
Third, it is necessary to remember that London 2012 is a nationwide Olympic Games. However, to achieve this, it will be necessary to pay careful attention to how the regions are mobilized around Games time. Vancouver did a great job of bringing its provinces into the host city. Alberta even appropriated the Rocky Mountaineer tourist train to Whistler, taking visitors on an Alberta inspired journey each day of the Games.
Similarly, London must ensure that the regions can maximize their presence in 2012, but they also need to enable regions to create their own mini-Olympics for those people who will not be able to get to London. This is a difficult task, since the absence of live Olympic sports activity in their cities is difficult to substitute, but if regional Games experiences are achieved, then this will also make London historic.
Finally, a related matter involves the programming of Livesites -- the non-ticketed free entry spaces that allow a large proportion of the local population to get close to the Olympic experience. While the livesites in Vancouver were good, there were often unreasonably long queues for many of them. While people were cheerful about it, standing in line 8 hours for anything needs to be avoided. More open venues are needed along with street performances. As well, greater thought should go into programming these venues, to avoid them being solely sponsor promotional spaces with big screens attached.
By London 2012, the Olympic Games will be a much more digitally mediated experience. Standing in line need not mean being bored for hours on end and mobile television will offer many more opportunities for engaging audiences. London will be the first truly digital Olympic Summer Games, but will the content produced for such devices create a richer Olympic Games experience, or will it be more of the same?