Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

07 December 2011

More glitz

Much to my surprise - given these straightened times - the Prime Minister has recently announced that the budget for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies is being more than doubled from £40 million to £81 million. According to the BBC’s sports correspondent James Pearce, this unexpected windfall comes from savings made from the public expenditure budget for the Games. Apparently, funding for the ceremonies would usually come from LOCOG’s private budget (i.e., from ticket revenue, sponsorship and the IOC itself).

 Who pays for what is invariably a hot topic where the Olympics and Paralympics are concerned. Those opposed to the staging of the Games invariably find fault with the amount spent from the public purse on the Games infrastructure, and also with the sponsorship deals and the restrictions that hedge them round about, so there is generally plenty of mileage in funding controversies. This revelation though, that the UK government will be pitching in for the ceremonies, raises some interesting issues.

 Such as: presumably the ceremonies have a fairly similar budget allocation at each Games (if just funded by the OCOGs); therefore a government wishing to host an extra stunning spectacle has to make a pretty hefty contribution over and above the dedicated amount. The Beijing authorities, one assumes, must have pumped in vast amounts of funding to achieve their own mind boggling ceremonies in 2008 which were clearly intended to astonish the world with mammoth displays of son et lumiere and examples of human discipline, planning and physical agility. Whatever your feelings about the vaingloriousness of all this, such Olympic ‘rituals’ clearly can’t be characterised as simply irrelevant add-ons; they are obviously invested with a significance all their own.

 However, this isn’t what we expected from London 2012. Isn’t it being spoken of in some quarters as the ‘austerity’ Olympics, and haven’t we backed off from trying to emulate the Chinese? After all, nations – particularly the poorer ones - can’t keep on upping the ante in this way. Or do we have no choice but to do so?

 Despite such pious hopes, the fear now is that a run-of-the-mill ceremony is not going to do GB Ltd any favours. The current financial meltdown is partly about confidence (or the lack of it) and the PM’s stated aim in bringing more money to the party is to maximise the country’s business and tourism legacy by adding all the glitz needed to impress the watching world. We have to show ourselves to be efficient, imaginative, talented, decorative and fun. There’s really no way round it. A couple of jugglers and some fireworks will not meet the world’s enhanced expectations.

 So we find ourselves in a very difficult situation. It might seem shallow to sprinkle on some more fairy dust, but perhaps it’s a case of not spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar.

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