Social Science blog

3 posts from May 2011

23 May 2011

Torches ... and bells

The announcement of the route for the Olympic torch relay was made last week, and the BBC had some interesting content on its London 2012 website, focusing on the different designs of the torches going back to 1936, and describing the highlights of the torch’s progress on its numerous journeys from that date.

 Many people are surprised by the fact that the Olympic torch was originally an idea of those arch propagandists, the German National Socialists, but Nazi rallies were often held at night with flaming torches - the idea being to introduce a note of high drama into the proceedings - and so the idea of carrying a flame into the Olympic stadium would have had an immediate appeal for them.

 The torch was not the only innovation at the Berlin Olympics however: there was also an Olympic bell weighing many tons, which was designed by Walter Lemcke and cast by the firm of Bochum in Westphalia. Once completed, it set out on its journey to Berlin in January 1936, stopping in a number of cities on the way and accompanied - as the official report puts it - by “festivals and demonstrations”, with its arrival at Magdeburg being greeted “ by the entire population”. The bell was finally transported to the Reich Sport Field in Berlin where it was hauled up to its tower on May 11th. And there it stayed until it fell to the ground in the aftermath of the 2nd World War. Now it sits, cracked and immobile outside the old Olympic stadium.

 The idea of creating a bell for each Olympics was never pursued thereafter, much to the relief no doubt of all the other OCOGS who would surely not have welcomed the logistical planning necessary for the lugging of the thing, here, there and everywhere. It would however, have made a wonderful subject for the BBC’s satirical take on the Olympics: Twenty Twelve.


17 May 2011

Safety in numbers

As widely reported in the media, last week saw a three-day exercise by security teams at the athletes’ village in the Olympic Park: part of a “robust testing and exercising programme” according to a spokesman from the Metropolitan Police.

 When the London Games start in 2012 it will be exactly 40 years since Israeli athletes were taken hostage by terrorists at the Munich Olympics. This event, which was just one of a number of terrorist attacks mounted across the world by various dissident groups in the 1970s, taught the world a tragic lesson about the way in which mega events like the Olympic Games would have to be policed in the future. So much so that in April this year, the Telegraph reported that the IOC had managed to secure a £62,000,100 insurance policy ‘to cover terrorism or acts of war which may impact on the London 2012 Olympic Games’.

 Clearly, what makes the Olympics a great opportunity for the marketing managers of big corporations - huge crowds, complex logistics, global publicity - makes them equally attractive to anyone else with an axe to grind; so whereas in the past it was the vast costs of the infrastructure which had to be taken into account, host cities now have to ask themselves whether they really want to go down that controversial, emotionally charged and financially crippling road of keeping everyone safe.

 Ideas about the security of the Games particularly resonate with Londoners because the 2005 July 7th bombings took place the day after it was announced that the 2012 Olympics had been awarded to their city. What was strongly felt on 7/7 was that life had to go on as usual; and the staging of mega events is all part of the same process. London 2012 will be symbolic in that way too.

 A fascinating recent publication by Pete Fussey, Jon Coaffee, Gary Armstrong and Dick Hobbs looks at all these issues. Details below:


 Pete Fussey et al Securing and sustaining the Olympic city

Farnham: Ashgate, 2011

London reference collections shelfmark: SPIS 796.480684

Lending collections shelfmark: m11/.14289

 London 2012: Olympic and Paralympic safety and security strategy. [London?: COI on behalf of the Home Office], 2011.)

Lending collections shelfmark: m11/.13744

 Reeve, Simon. One day in September: the story of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and Israeli revenge operation 'Wrath of God'  London : Faber, 2005.

London reference collections shelfmark:YK.2010.a.2759


10 May 2011

Sporting royals

All the excitement about the royal wedding got me thinking about the role that royalty has played in sport over the centuries. The present royal family, of course, has impeccable sporting credentials, particularly as far as the Olympics are concerned. As is well known, the Princess Royal competed at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, and her daughter Zara Phillips is a former World eventing champion who was only prevented from representing Great Britain in Beijing by an injury to her horse. Less well known perhaps, is that Prince Michael of Kent was a reserve member of the British team in the Bobsleigh event at the Winter Olympics of 1972.

 Earlier royals have had a rather ambivalent attitude towards sport, however. Edward II disliked the rowdy, rackety street football matches of the London apprentices and banned them from playing, and the interminable war with France which started in 1338 prompted later kings to do the same. Their justification was that their subjects would be better employed practising sports – like archery - that improved their fighting prowess, instead of shouting and knocking a ball about (someone beside me mutters “no wonder our record in the World Cup is so pathetic”).

 The appearance of being a hale and hearty sportsman was actually a desirable one at a time when government & law were represented in the person of the King. That most autocratic of the English kings - Henry VIII - was a celebrated athlete, excelling at jousting, wrestling, running and tennis. After him though, things got a bit complicated, with much debate about the propriety of sport on Sundays and Holy days, the only times when the common people were able to take their leisure. The Book of Sports was issued by James I in an attempt to clarify what was permissible on these occasions and he came down in favour of such activities as “leaping and vaulting”, archery, Morris dancing and the setting up of May poles, so British sporting prowess of the leaping variety was saved (only to be dashed later by the Puritans).

 Fortunately the powers that be have now decided - in the words of ‘1066 and all that’ that sport is a Good Thing.


England. [Miscellaneous Public Documents. (Domestic Transactions, Royal Messages, Speeches from the Throne, etc.). III. Chronological Series. James I. [1603-1625.] ] The Book of Sports, as set forth by K. Charles the I. [Issued by King James, May 24, 1618, and re-enacted Oct. 18, 1633.] With remarks, etc. (1709.)

London reference collections shelfmark: T.1810.(14.)