Brand GB – a good games

The Olympic Cauldron burns in front of the Union Jack and Olympic flag

Ask foreigners to describe Britain and they will often reflect on a people obsessed with their past and resigned to their fate. We have a reputation for reserved introspection.

The Diamond Jubilee presented a familiar British face to a watching world - street parties and formal ceremonial held, as might be seen as traditional, in the rain.

It was "red and gilt Britain", as one US journalist based here described it to me. And we are very good at it.

The expectation was that the Olympics would be conducted within the same colour palette. A London games, it was widely assumed, would resound to the echoes of past glories - a retrospective of an ancient island people.

But almost from the moment the clang of a giant golden bell announced the opening ceremony, it was clear that stereotypes were being challenged. The history was there. So was the Queen. But the tone was optimistic and self-deprecating - a portrait of a country aware of its shortcomings but surprisingly confident about its future.

And the games began - draped in dazzling pink and purple, orange and poppy-red. It was an audacious statement. London 2012 would be determinedly contemporary.

Olympics coverage online

Olympics images

For a moment the country held its breath. We had been warned to expect travel chaos, security meltdown and organisational incompetence. When a coach driver got lost bringing athletes to the Olympic Park, it seemed as though Britain was lining up for at least a bronze in bungling.

But it didn't happen. In fact, the teams of pandemonium correspondents assigned around the capital were forced to kick their heels or quickly develop an understanding of the finer points of dressage and rhythmic gymnastics.

Let's be clear. Putting on an Olympics is a massively complex task - what is known in the jargon as a "mega-project". It requires collaboration and planning on a breath-taking scale. And just one oversight or error has the capacity to destroy a host city's reputation and damage a country's image.

What we have seen over the past fortnight is an amazing success story. Far from exposing mediocrity and incompetence, the games have challenged lazy assumptions about what kind of country we are - not just to foreigners but to ourselves.

Each time we look at the medal table, we are encouraged to believe that we still have the capacity to punch above our weight in the world. Each time the TV cameras swoop over the smiling crowds in the Olympic venues, we are reminded that we can match anyone when it comes to putting on a show.

There is a danger of becoming giddy, like a love-struck teenager who assumes too much from a fortnight of summer adventure. The sugar-rush of sweet success is likely to be swiftly followed by the sickener of remembering just what economic and social challenges lie ahead for this country.

But let's not forget what some people predicted would happen: an embarrassing and chaotic two weeks during which all the flaws of our declining nation would be exposed.

Brand GB would have been horribly undermined and this country's reputation and prospects damaged for decades.

As it is, we have presented ourselves as competent, successful, confident and fun. To paraphrase Brucie - it's been a good games, my love, good games.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    The Games themselves were excellent!

    Marred, for me, by reporting that was exclusively Team GB focussed, ignoring excellent performance from athletes of other nations (apart from Usain Bolt) - even if a British athlete got silver or bronze, coverage was all about them and you were lucky to find out who got gold!

    Olymic sport is about the best, not any one nation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    Olympic Volunteers gave their time for free, Olympic Corporate sponsors demanded and got a tax exemption on profits made during the Games.
    Cameron's Big Society in operation .
    Loved the athlete's endevours, loathed the camera-mugging LOCOG and politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    Why was the English flag removed from most of Team GB kit and why was the display at the end just a hootch pot of colour with the English flag being removed altogether and replaced with a white cross , being a proud Englishman I found this offensive. Most of the colour scheme seem to be blue and white at least scotland should be happy .

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    BluesBerry. Your original post said this: "Would the same rigidity be applied to a US team, a Great Britain Team? I doubt it." All I did, was point out that you were entirely wrong and gave examples. In fact, GB was DQ'd in the very same event as the one you quoted!

    And enjoying the Games and the incredible abilities of the athletes IS the point - it's a sporting event not a political rally!

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    Well said Mark.

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    545.Nick S on 542. BluesBerry.
    Maybe I am wrong; maybe I'm a sore loser, but blatant mistakes by referees and DQ based on an inconsequential mistep, make my dander rise. Pomp & circumstance during harsh economic times, riase my blood. Enjoying the games is not a replacement for missing the peaceful intention of the games - at great cost to every citizen living in Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    Modern Olympics first conceived = peaceful alternative to war. World nations were to lay down arms, stop fighting during the games out of respect for the Olympic ideal. That did not happened. London became a showcase of corporate branding & entertainment; wars raged without media comment. Games encourage patriotism without reflection, while TV companies fight a war for ratings & revenues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    Brands used to be a guarantee of wholesomeness. Now they dress to deceive. I'm not buying the this brand

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    A massive success. Journalists, "pundits", "right-on comedians" and professional miserablists should take a few days to examine themselves a bit harder, rather then others, and wonder if, indeed, they could learn something from the much opined about but largely ignored Ordinary Brit!

    Cheerfulness, modesty but a bit of passion when needed!

    Alec Salmond and Plaid types must be spitting tacks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.

    542. BluesBerry. Wrong again. As a Brit living and working here, everyone I know enjoyed the Games immensely, so stop making sweeping generalisations. And all because your relay team was DQ'd - you must be a very sore loser!

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    Meaning as "GB" is supposed to represent Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland as well as England, surely Mark Easton's article should be talking about plural countries and not use the singular "a country" and "this country".

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    As it happens the GB mens 4 x 100m team was disqualified during qualification for doing exactly that - stepping over a line.

    And that for you, as a Canadian, says just about everything you need to know!

  • rate this

    Comment number 542.

    "Brand GB" reminded me of today's African Proverb: “I pointed out to you the stars and all you saw was the tip of my finger”.
    Graceful restriction could have marked these games but was nowhere evident. Most down-to-earth GBs were pointing fingers - to the emptiness of the treasury; but the elites saw only tips of raised fingers, raised (no doubt) in desperation, but seen as celebration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    539. BluesBerry. Well yes actually. GB's reigning World and, at the time Olympic, cycling sprint champion, Victoria Pendleton, was DQd for crossing the sprinters line (very slightly) whilst being leaned upon by Anna Meares. And this was her second disqualification of the Games.

  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    "Brand GB" leaves me with the after-taste of a Christmas tree - ornamental, flashy, tinsel.
    What is my attitude now about GB - slightly more shallow, superficial, glitzy - at a time when GB cannot afford glitzy. I would have had more respect for an games inclusive of the suffering of the poor and bare-bones budget. I believe the world would have understood that approach.

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    Canada was disqualified from the 4×100-metre relay at the London Olympics on Saturday, losing the bronze after third-leg runner Jared Connaughton stepped on the line marking the border of his lane - a meaningless mistake which did not effect the outcome.
    Would the same rigidity be applied to a US team, a Great Britain Team?
    I doubt it.
    And that for me, a Canadian, says it all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    Bronze medal around her neck, Canadian Christine Sinclair was asked if she felt the strong criticism she fired at a Norwegian official earlier this week - criticism that joined from the rest of the Canadian team - might have gone a bit too far.
    “No,” Sinclair said Friday.
    So, you stand by your comments?
    “Yes,” she said.
    And that for me, a Canadian, says it all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    It would have been an ideal opportunity to have taken the Olympics back to de Courbetin's ideals. Simple 10-minute opening and closing ceremonies without millions on bling-bling. Unfortunately, the days of amateurism cannot be recalled. The IOC should put a ceiling on costs to break the 'oneupmanship' stakes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    Mark you are a recidivist when it comes to passing England off as britain!

    You are changing the goal posts for the argument, I don’t believe anyone stated London could not conduct a successful Olympics!

    What people were arguing was that £13Bn could be better spent on grass roots sport or the NHS.

    Let’s see how Brucie is next month when the credit card bill hits the carpet!

    C McK

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    After having put on such a wonderful show, we mustn't start letting standards slip.

    There are two "n"s in "innit".
    You are right. On both accounts. I will do my bit by spelling "innit" correctly from now on. It's always good to improve, innit.


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