Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Mark Hillary

GET UPDATES FROM Mark Hillary
 

Why Do Brits Hate the London Olympic Games?

Posted: 18/07/2012 00:00

What is it about being British? We go and invent all the best sports in the world and then give great sportsmen like Andy Murray a hard time about whether he is more Scottish or more British - or ever going to win at Wimbledon.

We have produced some of the finest artists and musicians in the world and gifted our language to the world, but then we grind stars like Amy Winehouse - people who need help and support - into the gutter.

We have the Premier League. What else do I need to say about the Prem? Walk past a bar in São Paulo, Bangkok, or Yaoundé when Manchester United are playing and the game will be on, probably with British beer being served. But the league is just taken for granted back in Manchester - they all support City anyway.

And now, we, the British, have the greatest sporting event in the entire world about to open on our very doorstep - the Olympic Games.

Do you remember that summer day in 2005 when thousands of us Brits were screaming and cheering in Trafalgar Square because not only did we hear that the games were coming to London, but we also managed to beat the bookies favourite, Paris.

I can remember it. I was there. The working day ended right then at lunchtime for most Londoners. We just could not believe that the greatest show on earth was going to come to our town. And here it is. Next week it all starts.

And how has the British media welcomed this triumph?

Not enough security guards. Missiles will be deployed to protect the games. Team buses lost as drivers still don't know their way to the Olympic park. Disruption expected on roads in London and also across the public transport system. Strikes by train and bus drivers chasing an Olympic bonus for their extra efforts. Wave after wave after wave of negativity and that's not even mentioning those who keep referring back to the budget.

Of course the budget is now under control if you accept the revised budget, which is way to the north of what we saw in the predictions of 2005.

But let's step back just a moment. London is really not doing so badly if you scan the news from before other recent games. In Beijing they were sweeping beggars from the streets and shutting down industry to prevent pollution in the days before the 2008 games. At Athens in 2004 the main stadium was still having seats fitted literally weeks before the opening ceremony.

In London the venues are all ready, they have all been tested by hosting real events, and even the public transport systems have been stress tested by getting thousands of staff to all bring their family along at weekends to test the queuing systems. One big lesson learned from the simulations was that queuing systems planned on paper don't foresee that tourists will stop and take pictures of themselves by the trains. It's a good thing somebody bothered to check.

Everyone who really doesn't want to deal with the Olympic games has chosen this as the ideal time to go on holiday. In fact so many Brits seem to have chosen this particular time to go on holiday that I'm sensing central London may even be quieter than usual in mid-summer -we shall see.

But have the British really become so jaded and miserable that when the greatest sporting show in the world comes to town, all we want to do is head off to Portugal to see how far the pound will go against the Euro in bars serving pints of London Pride?

I'm still excited about the games coming to London and I think there are millions of others who are not buying into the media negativity. Every time I watch the Muse 'Survival' video - official song of the games - I feel the excitement and that's not just because of my attempts to sing in Matt Bellamy's falsetto. This is it - the biggest event in the world and it is coming right here to my town.

Earlier today I asked Sandie Dawe, the Chief Executive of VisitBritain for her opinion - why should the media be celebrating rather than whining?

"There's so much to celebrate about the UK's staging of the Olympics. The Torch Relay has been a huge success with around 9 million people turning out to cheer on the runners; the Cultural Festival has been a critical and creative triumph. Most of our venues were ready one year ahead, and the park is being landscaped," she said.

Then Dawe answered some of the criticisms directly: "Yes, if you live in London, there's the inconvenience of transport changes, but Londoners are used to adapting their journey to work. Yes, the weather has been poor, but the longer range forecast promises warm sunshine. We've learned from previous host cities and tried to take the best of this experience and applied it to London and Britain 2012. I'm sure it'll be a great experience for spectators, and an amazing showcase for Britain globally."

The point about being a showcase for Britain is important. I met Dawe in Rio de Janeiro recently where, along with the UK Trade and Investment promotion agency, UKTI, she was leading the launch of the GREAT Britain campaign. This campaign is designed to flow from the goodwill of the Olympics and to generate greater tourism and trade for Britain.

The Olympic story is not over when all the medals are handed out - far from it. Having the eyes of the world on London, Manchester, Weymouth, Box Hill, Coventry, Glasgow, and Manchester means that billions of TV, radio, and Internet viewers are going to be seeing the best of Britain.

Recouping the Olympic investment will come from being smart about harnessing this interest and that's what the GREAT campaign aims to achieve.

If a business in the US considers trading with the UK, rather than another EU country, partly because of wall-to-wall coverage of Britain this summer, then that is a specific business outcome from hosting the games - likewise tourists might be staying away during the games because they expect chaos, but they will come soon after. This is an enormous advert for the UK - we should be showing our best side to the camera, not whining that we really don't want to be hosting the world's best athletes in London.

And tourism is a serious business worth promoting; inbound tourism to the UK was worth around £18bn last year. And there are many new targets for tourism - people from countries such as China and Brazil are increasingly choosing the UK as a holiday destination. The number of Brazilians visiting Britain increased by 262% in 2011.

So people are upset the Olympic budget was busted, but even with the countless revisions, inbound tourists to the UK are spending more than twice the total cost of the games - each year. Now add in the expected post-Olympic tourist and business boost that the GREAT campaign is focused on harnessing and what are we Brits worried about? This event will create global goodwill towards the UK for an entire generation.

In the middle of a European recession, making Britain a more attractive place for tourists to visit and for global companies do business seems like a great strategy to me. When Simon Le Bon starts singing 'Rio' in Hyde Park next Friday, I'll be shouting the name of the next Olympic city and enjoying the amazing spectacle of Danny Boyle's opening ceremony.

Are you going to join me?

 

Follow Mark Hillary on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markhillary

FOLLOW UK SPORT