One of the most interesting aspects of being involved in inaugural Youth Olympic Games and the development and promotion of the Culture and Education Programme which was part of it, was the insight my role provided into the relationship of the media to the Olympic Movement. This is a relationship that is integral to the IOC’s ability to fulfil its principle function of event managing the largest multi-sport events in the world in the form of the Summer Olympiad and the Winter Games. The Youth Olympic Games, brainchild of incumbent IOC President Jacques Rogge is part mission to educate and indite the world’s elite sporting youth into the Olympic Movement, and, part mission to attract a younger audience to the Olympic Games through the media with all the commercial benefits such a lucrative market presents.
If this seems a tad cynical, allow me to express both my utmost belief that Rogge’s vision is first and foremost a personal and, for want of a better word, a moralistic one. The origin of the Youth Olympic Games lying in the European Youth Festivals he devised in his previous role as President of the European Olympic Committees, to bridge the Iron Curtain and the disparities it created in access to ‘fair’ sporting competition and education.
This fact, the ‘business model of the IOC’, according to a representative from the Olympic Solidarity department of the IOC (the department that distributes the funds to each National Olympic Committee and to International Sports Federations to ensure their support and participation in The Games), reinforces how integral a part the media play in sustaining the Olympic Movement.
The IOC is justifiably proud of the fact that it distributes 92-93% (I’ve heard both figures used recently) of its commercial revenue “back into sports development” via the Olympic Solidarity and Olympic Scholarship Schemes. The IOC claim that their model is sustainable, despite the average age of an Olympic TV viewer being something in the region of 40+ years old. Its clear that the addition of some younger audience members would do the sustainability of the IOC’s business no harm at all – hence the Youth Olympic Games.
One of the big parts of my role was to act as spokesperson for the media for the Youth Olympic Games in the buildup to The Games this saw me participate in a number of media days principally organised and managed by PR firm Ogilvie who were acting for Visit Singapore – the Singapore Tourism Board (the host nation, also looking to recoup some of the $300-400M investment it made in staging the Youth Olympic Games).
Anyone, who watched the BBC’s weekly highlights programme from The Youth Games, would have noticed that the programme, fronted by Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton and Newsround presenter Ore Oduba, focussed predominantly on Britain’s 5 key medal prospects for The Games. It was scathing in the idea of the athletes “having to live and eat with 3,000 other people”, described by the athletes themselves as one of the best parts of the experience. The programmes described the Culture and Education Programme, another integral component to the Youth Olympic Games experience as sounding “boring”. Not a sentiment expressed by any of the athletes that I’m aware of.
Hardly, representative coverage then of The Youth Games ambition to be a celebration of the Olympic Values of Friendship, Excellence and Respect, nor representative of the opinions of the athlete’s through whom the BBC team were trying to tell their story. The BBC coverage instead concentrating on the Excellence of little more than a handful of the British team. Not even so much as conversing with many of the athletes on the team who despite being amongst the best in the world and having given most of their youth to reach this point, weren’t fortunate enough on this occasion to stand on the podium or indeed begin their competition on the first day of The Games.
Needless to say, no one was going to bite the hand that feeds them and suggest that the BBC might want to paint a more representative picture of The Games. It was also clear that no press officer was going to advance any story unless it involved talking about shiny bits of metal around athletes neck’s, or bizarrely, shiny bits of metal in the form of pin badges. This doesn’t say much for the BBC’s interpretation of how, in fact, athletes can and do more generally contribute back to society and can offer more practical inspiration to folks back home. Because apparently all we the mere mortal public care about is medals. Incidentally, the IOC were adamant that no official medal account be kept of The Games, was anyone advising or correcting the BBC of this? I highly doubt it. The medals are an important part of The Games, but they are not The Games. Would anyone watching the BBC coverage back home have been reassured of this? Again, I highly doubt it.
“As the Olympic Broadcaster, did the BBC take this unique opportunity to make the wider experience and values of The Games more accessible to the British public who will host the next one, no of course not.”
All of which is a shame of course and something of a wasted opportunity to truly give voice to the stories that all of these remarkable young people can tell and the inspiration they can provide their nation. This might also explain why the IOC is, and should be, seeking to better exploit other channels of communication, that to put it bluntly, enable more representative coverage of the experience of The Games and in the words of Alex Huot, IOC Head of Social Media “connect as many people as we can with athletes“.
Remembering something I’d seen on David Armano’s awesome Logic + Emotion blog, which was exploring the role that social engagement can play as part of a broader PR strategy. I was also interested in how this might integrate with the IOC’s presently ‘sustainable’ business model and using a model I co-created with colleagues at the International Olympic Academy in the summer (thanks guys!) explore what new opportunities social engagement offers in terms of more representative and democratic media coverage of future iterations of the The Games, including of course London 2012 and Innsbruck 2012.
What do you think of the coverage of The Games? Does it make you any more enthusiastic about London hosting The Games? What about the role of social media in sport – do you follow any athletes through social media?