Social Science blog

4 posts from July 2011

28 July 2011

Traffic jams, transport, tourists etc

Dire warnings about the logistical problems proceeding from the staging of the Olympics and Paralympics in a congested city like London are doing the rounds in the press at the moment. The Department for Transport’s claim is that London 2012 will provide “the most accessible Games ever” and huge efforts have been made to improve public access to the events, with new rail links, provision of walking and cycling paths and so on. However the DfT has already published some startling facts and figures about what will happen during the Games, claiming that “up to 500,000 spectators each day are expected to travel across London for the… sporting events, plus 170,000 workforce and 55,000 members of the Games Family.“

 Most controversial of all the preparations is the Olympic Route Network which consists of a set of roads linking key competition and non-competition venues within and around London. These are intended to provide “safe, reliable journeys for athletes and other members of the Games Family while keeping London and the rest of the UK moving”. The roads within this network were designated as early as 2009, and the DfT has put maps online which set out exactly where they are.

 These fast lane access routes have had numerous detractors in the Press, most notably Simon Jenkins, whose polemic in the Evening Standard raises the spectre of an inner London network of some 60 miles of roads being kept free for the Olympic athletes, officials, and VIPs, enabling them to whizz past Londoners foaming at the mouth in traffic jams. And he has a point: nothing infuriates Londoners more after a hard day’s work than to take 2 hours getting home instead of 1.

 So will the Olympic and Paralympic Games strike a wrong note right from the start for the indigenous population? That partly depends on whether the optimistic forecasts for a money-spinning influx of tourists to London 2012 actually happens. And there are doubts about this, particularly since the publication of a report by the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) which suggests that there may be a fall of up to 50% in visitor numbers in London during the Games, the effect also being felt in Britain as a whole. The report is here:

 The question of the net result on tourism of an Olympic Games has long been a topic of discussion amongst academics. Claims are commonly made for a rapid influx of visitors during and after the Games thanks to the world-wide exposure that a city receives at Games time, with Barcelona being held up as an example. However, things are often not as straightforward as this. Sometimes the Games act as a disincentive, with potential tourists being put off by the prospect of all the commotion. From London’s point of view, do we actually need more tourists, and can we accommodate them?

 These are the sort of dilemmas that every Olympic host city experiences. Only time will tell if the scare-mongering is justified.


Weed, Mike. Olympic tourism. Amsterdam; London: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008.

London reference collections shelfmark SPIS338.4791

Lending collections shelfmark m07/.36920

20 July 2011

Owning the Olympics

The possession (or not) of tickets for the 2012 Olympics continues to be an on-going topic of Games-related conversations, news reports, tweets and blogs. Do people who have failed to get tickets now feel alienated from the whole 2012 process; and have questions about who has ‘rights’ to see the Olympics become dangerously controversial? One can put a more positive spin on the situation by looking at what is going to be free and available for all at Games time. For example, there will be opportunities to watch some events without actually having to pay, most notably the triathlon, marathon, race walking and road cycling events (from some vantage points at least). The journal Triathlete has already identified a number of ‘top spectator points’ including the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner and Buckingham Palace, so if people get to the venues early enough, they stand a chance of getting an excellent view of proceedings and sampling the atmosphere of a world class event. There are also the Live Sites – screens which will be set up in over 20 locations in large towns to show not only local news and events but the Olympic & Paralympics as they happen. A long list of venues appears on the LOCOG website:

 The big screens concept was employed in Canada for the Winter Games of 2010 in Vancouver and met with enormous success. People flocked to the venues, queued for best vantage points and created an atmosphere that was not unlike that of a cup final crowd. Will that happen here? I posed this question a few weeks ago, and I’m genuinely interested to find out what ‘people power’ will do to these Games, and whether a kind of subculture of informal consumption of the Games will spring up which takes on its own momentum and creates its own rules of engagement.

The rise of a more democratic ownership of sport is discernable in several different areas. One only has to look at  cricket’s Barmy Army and various ‘unofficial’ football supporters groups, all of which have created and then institutionalised procedures and and structures external to the establishment. Football fans in particular are increasingly expressing a form of ownership of their teams which stands in opposition to the legal ownership of the clubs themselves.

The Olympic Games have certainly seen spontaneous movements turn into loosely regulated ones. At one point the IOC allowed only a closely regulated form of media participation at Games time, with the perhaps inevitable result that an ‘unaccredited’ media presence grew up which soon began to take on a more flexible, less regimented and more dynamic life of its own. So will we see ‘unaccredited’ consumers of the Games creating structures of this kind? Already there are websites, bloggers and tweeters who have established a form of ownership of the Games process - helped greatly by new technology.

 Such developments are intriguing for archives and libraries. We want as much of the Games to be documented as possible, and for those documents to be collected and preserved. But if there’s stuff happening that’s off the radar, how do we find out about it and capture it?



11 July 2011

The Power of Myth

Simone Bacchini writes:

Isn’t one supposed to switch off completely while on holiday? Shouldn’t work be left entirely behind when you’ve gone to all the trouble of paying to be flown to a faraway island to bask in the sun, enjoy your favourite book, and feast on delicious, exotic food? If that’s the case, then my holiday has not been entirely successful.

I’ve just come back from Santorini, a marvellous Greek island in the midst of the Aegean. A massive volcanic eruption around 1600 BC left behind a geological structure whose beauty is simply breathtaking. A warm sea, amazing food, and friendly locals do the rest, and make it the perfect place for rest.

So how did I come to think about work, and this blog in particular? Well, on 25 June I turned on the TV to find that one of the Greek channels was broadcasting an Olympics opening ceremony. I thought perhaps, with all the cuts and austerity measures the Greek Government has had to impose, that maybe the broadcaster believed that the population needed some cheering up and that a repeat of the 2004 Games would do the trick.

But that wasn’t the case. An opening ceremony it most certainly was, but for the 2011 Special Olympics. Special Olympics is a non-profit organisation, founded in the United States by Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, sister of U.S President John F. Kennedy. In 1971, it was granted the privilege of using the title “Olympics” by the U.S. Olympic Committee, only one of two organisations to be so fortunate. The Special Olympics is for athletes with intellectual disabilities and some of its stated aims are “to change attitudes”, and to “encourage through sports.”

I certainly didn’t know it, but the British team was the largest delegation at this year’s event (157 athletes). One of its stars was 23-year old Joel Fitzpatrick, from Seamer in the Northeast of England, who has dyspraxia, He did very well (winning two medals) and so did the British Team, which won 33.

Coverage of the Special Olympics was extensive in Greece: TV, radio, and newspapers all carried news about it. None of this was perfunctory; you could tell there was real excitement. It showed admiration for the athletes as well as for an event that took the country’s mind off the difficult times it is experiencing, and the ones that undoubtedly lie ahead.

To me, it seemed appropriate that the competition should be held in Greece, for the Olympics, in all its incarnations, such as the Paralympics and the Special Olympics, is steeped in myth. Myth is not about truth but about meaning, symbolism, and transcendence. And isn’t Greece the land of myth?

So, of course the Country will still be faced with years of hardship once the lights have been turned off in the Olympic venues; of course it takes more than a few days of competing in front of TV cameras to remove the stigma and the difficulties of living with intellectual disabilities; and world peace – one of the stated aims of the Special Olympics – will be far from achieved. But the myth will endure, and so will its power to guide, inspire, perhaps even heal.

Well done team Britain, well done Special Olympics athletes, well done Greece. And come to think of it, my holiday wasn’t a failure in any respect. Far from it.

05 July 2011

Being there

The Olympic controversy du jour is all about ticketing, but that – one supposes – is hardly surprising given the complexity and magnitude of the process. I have not been disappointed myself because I haven’t actually applied for any events: part of my cunning plan is to pick up leftovers at the last minute. At least I’m hoping that will be possible. If it isn’t, I shall just have to trudge over to the Olympic Park and press my nose wistfully to the railings.

 It’s clear that – controversy notwithstanding – a mad scramble for tickets is preferable, as far as LOCOG is concerned, to no interest at all. Nothing destroys the atmosphere at an event so much as a stadium of empty seats, and there will be no danger of that at London 2012. Indeed, Sebastian Coe is reported as saying that “no event in world history has sold so many tickets so quickly”. However, this success poses problems of its own, the most notable being how to control the sale of tickets so that profiteering by ticket touts – and others - is eliminated. In March this year, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Money box’ programme discovered that foreign websites already existed which were selling tickets at inflated prices – and this was before any tickets had been officially released.

 A law is in place now to make Olympic ticket touting illegal. It forms section 31 of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 which makes it an offence to sell tickets without a license to do so from LOCOG. This includes re-selling the tickets for a profit, so that also puts paid to any private enterprise on Ebay! The Metropolitan Police even have a squad called Operation Podium which aims to enforce the provisions of the law, and have already made arrests (there’s a fine of £20,000 if convicted).

 We’re fortunate in the developed countries to have media coverage which will satisfy the most exacting spectator, and those who want to celebrate en masse can presumably go to the public screens or indeed to the pubs, which will be broadcasting the events and encouraging clients to create their own ‘micro-atmosphere’ of support  - as takes place with important football matches. I’ll be very interested in fact to see if this happens. The British love of football and a pint surpasses that of all other, and whether this tradition will translate to other sports is debatable. We’ll see…


 Read (& hear) about the passing of the Olympics legislation on the Sport & Society website

 Money Box on Olympic tickets. BBC iplayer