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How important are big sports events to a country's identity?

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Roger Mosey | 10:15 UK time, Monday, 16 November 2009

Most of the people I meet - and last week's itinerary included Southampton, Manchester and Leeds - are in favour of the Olympic Games being staged in London. It's the circles I move in, I know: in the nature of my job I comparatively rarely come across the sport-rejectors and 2012 sceptics.

But there's polling evidence that the UK's pro-Olympians are in a majority - and these Games are, in any case, emphatically on their way.

You can see just how much progress is being made on the official webcams.

The 2012 Aquatics CentreThe 2012 Aquatics Centre recently saw its roof lifted into place

The question popping up often now is how the 2012 Olympics fit into the wider UK sporting story.

We know we already have the Commonwealth Games coming to Glasgow in 2014 and the Rugby World Cup then follows in England in 2015.

Last week there was a flurry of activity - if that's what you call unceremoniously dumping some of the board - around England's bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2018.

And really there are two visions here: one of a golden decade of top sport in the UK in which we're world-class at hosting events and deriving benefits from them - or the second which flinches from the cost, the disruption and the alleged vulgarity of it all.

I'm taking a gamble that Catherine Bennett, who represents the second of these arguments in the most recent edition of The Observer, doesn't go to much football since I didn't see a lot of thuggery, vomit or even jingoism in Germany's brilliantly-organised World Cup of 2006. Or at the overwhelming majority of domestic football.

But where she's right is in talking about the difficulty of identifying the benefits of most bids for the mega sport events.

A sift through recent history will show that almost all host cities and nations understate the costs and overstate the benefits.

We can hope that London 2012 will reverse that - on benefits, at least, because the costs argument has already been lost - and there are public ambitions from both the Conservative Mayor of London and the Labour government nationally.

In the BBC we'll keep a keen eye on how London 2012 delivers against these objectives.

But with London and with Glasgow and with the FA's bid for 2018 there's part of the debate only the public can decide - and that is how much better they feel, and how important it is to the country's identity and well-being, that these events take place here.

velo_getty595.jpgThe Manchester Velodrome plays host to the 2009 UCI Track Cycling World Cup

It's a different version of the impact on Brazil and South America, beyond the purely economic, that was discussed around Rio's bid.

This struck me particularly in Manchester on Friday.

I'm interested in hearing from Mancunians and from everyone else who footed the bill, but it seems to me that the city got a long-term boost from hosting the successful Commonwealth Games in 2002 and it's done decently in legacy terms too - as you see in the Velodrome with its contribution to Team GB's cycling success and every time Manchester City play at Eastlands.

Whether it justifies the cost points again to the question the UK public will be answering in 2012 and beyond; but what's beyond doubt is that the UK is on the map of international sporting hosts in a way that it wasn't for most of the previous decades.

Whether that delivers gold or base metal, we shall soon see.


  • Comment number 1.

    I think the legacy is already showing with Glasgow hosting and Cardiff looking to host the Commonwealth Games.

    Whilst some people see the Olympics as extravagance and not relevant to them, the profile of the UK will be raised as a result and businesses will be able to sell themselves better using the added attention.

    Once the event gets closer people will want to be involved more and with almost every major city involved their will be a chance to see events. Whilst some complain it is too Londoncentric this is as its the only city the IOC will allow to host it and also has the highest profile.

    The most important issue with identity is that the Olympics are presented as a UK event and there is a clear distinction between British and English. This issue could make or brake the support for the event as the Olympics are there to raise awareness of Wales, Scotland and N Ireland too and at the moment these are not being involved enough.

    Maybe before the event we will see all the flags of the UK represented and not just the Union Jack, which is misunderstood outside the UK.

  • Comment number 2.

    Well Mr Mosey

    I'm not a Mancunian but I did live there from 1998 - 2005 and was therefore well placed to see the city develop over the period encompassing the Commonwealth games.

    Manchester was lucky enough to have a tight-knit community of far-sighted Executives running the City Council who did much beyond just bid for the Commonwealth Games.

    They started a regeneration programme in the early to mid 1980s, the flagship project of which was the Trafford Centre. They engaged with Michael Heseltine you see, unlike their compatriots in Liverpool.....

    They used the IRA bomb in 1995 to regenerate the City Centre to the extent that you can spend more in upmarket boutiques there than you will in London. I suspect it is mostly footballers' wives who actually do though!

    They saw the creation of a world-class University via the merger of UMIST and Victoria and put in place a 15 year £500m capital investment programme to provide the institution with magnificent modern buildings, including research labs, business premises, new student accommodation etc etc. The bioscience incubator was one of the first of its kind in Britain and at least one entrepreneur returned from the US to Manchester rather than Oxbridge due to that facility.

    They saw the expansion of the airport as critical to attracting inward investment, broadening the reach of direct flights around the globe.

    And yes, they won the right to host the Commonwealth Games and built a great swimming pool, which also has fitness rooms, saunas etc which is a total transformation for students as compared to the facilities previously available. It's right next to the University, so no student has an excuse for not getting some exercise if swimming or work-outs are their thing. The stadium allowed Man City to move from an aging Maine Road to a spanking new stadium and the velodrome hosted the elite squads for several years subsequent. Sports City is also part of a major regeneration project in East Manchester, including One Central Park, which secured at least one major tenant courtesy of the Commonwealth Games procurement programmes.

    So Manchester is now blessed with several major sporting facilities both for elite and general use as a result of that winning bid. An ennabling infrastructure for long-term endeavour. Provided that the city and the nation find that long-term endeavour important.

    Manchester also hosted the Champions League final and the UEFA Cup final, for which some are grateful and some wish they hadn't happened.

    And in 1999, I described the scenes on the streets of Manchester to an Argentinian penpal as 'unmistakable evidence that we are turning into warm Latins'. Blaring horns, underpants up flagpoles, curries at 2am, you name it it went on that night. It was an important part of the mix for many. A sign that their town was on the world stage again.

    As I'm sure you're aware, Manchester has also created a major media hub and some of your colleagues may be relocating there in the future!

    So Manchester has been reinventing itself over the past 25 years, part of which has involved sporting renaissance, not the least of which had something to do with a Scot you may be talking to again soon.

    So my take on Manchester is this: people feel good if their economy grows, their sports teams do well AND they show the world that they can put on a show.

    I don't think that just putting on a show is good enough though.

    Because that's escapism.

    But a 25 year regeneration of a nation including a decade of world class sporting events?

    Sounds good to me.....

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm an ordinary person, living in Somerset. I think having the Olympics coming to London is fantastically exciting, regardless of whether I get to attend any event in person, although I have registered to be a volunteer. I think they're worth whatever the final cost turns out to be, because they give everyone something special to remember, whatever their favourite sport - or even if they don't like any.

    And even in Somerset, we can benefit, with initiatives like the Team Somerset 500 Club, which I heard about for the first time today -

  • Comment number 4.

    I can't comment on the legacy of the games, but I went to the Manchester Commonwealth Games and thought it was absolutely fantastic. It was superbly organised, the venues were great , I was very impressed by the friendliness and helpfulness of Mancunians (and as a Leeds United supporter, I never thought I'd say that!) and I had the double honour of seeing Jonathon Edwards win the triple jump and Paula Radcliffe win the 5,000m, in a packed City of Manchester Stadium: an experience I will never forget. The whole thing made me feel proud to be English and British.
    I am thrilled by us getting the 2012 Olympics and am infuriated by the criticism. Wimbledon, Euro '96, the '48 Olympics (after 6 years of war) and all the Royal pageantry, shows that the UK can put on superb public events (makes you wonder why our public services are so c**p, but then the public sector unions don't have anything to do with organising, or staffing, major sporting or Royal events). Why can't we just be happy to celebrate our country? Why is it such a sin to want to feel pride in putting on a good event and hopefully winning some medals? No other country has a self styled itelligentsia (Observer, Guardian, and occasionally the BBC), who are so determined for their own country to fail and so determined to make the general population feel miserable.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm proud to be English and proud to be British. The olympics coming is great and hopefully it'll even give our economy a kick start. I'm a dead excited sports fan and hopefully i'll get to see some of the events.

    Here's hoping for a wonderful games with beautiful venues, great events and a feel good factor for our country.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks for the comments so far. Working backwards:

    Steel-city-blade in #5 - well, that sums up the case for big events. A lot of the people I meet, especially younger ones, say what you do. I don't think there's going to be any problem selling the 9m tickets for the Olympics...

    Stracepipe in #4 - same applies. And I agree that some of the arguments against major events lack a sense of how much pleasure a big sporting moment can give people.

    Admiralandrea in #3: thanks for the link about the Somerset intiative. I hadn't heard of it either and it sounds really interesting.

    Rjaggar in #2: I always enjoy your contributions, and you make the case for Manchester very powerfully.

    JimClark07 in #1: the point about the UK's games is a good one. There's definitely a creative tension between the focus on London as a host city and the aim of representing all parts of the UK - and I think this is going to become a significant debate in the coming months. It's something I'll return to soon here.

  • Comment number 7.

    I was a bit of a no to the London Olympics in its early days when it had no chance.
    But when Sebastian Coe took over and added his depth of Sporting Knowlegde, it turned on me and I was overjoyed when the bid was won in 2005.
    I am very excitied that the once in a lifetime sporting vent in the Olympics will be on Home soil in the Captial City.
    Even in Warwickshire, we are looking forward to it, looking to grab minor nations while Brummie Land has got the Americans and soon the Jamacians.
    We always seem to excel when we have a major tournament, Wimbledon shows that, they can squeeze games here and there, the Open Golf and the 1999 Rugby and Cricket World Cups.
    I hope we get the Football World Cup in 2018 (once the bidding team has sorted itself out) for the 'decade of Sport' that Britain will get, to get the Olympics, Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Rugby World Cup and Football World Cup which can show our expertise in how we handle these events and show the World that Britain loves its Sports and will do well to make sure we leave a legacy for the next hosts (However us following Beijing is scary!)
    I raise a smile to see that the venues are half way completed and more and scrape the horror of Wembley Stadium's construction which made us a laughing stock but we got a brilliant 90,000 Capacity Stadium and we will have a great Olympic Stadium which I have christened the 'Salad Bowl Stadium' which when you compare to Beijings 'Birds Nest' may not have the stunning construction and billions spent on it (and snazzy nickname) but at least it will be easily deconstructed, have a legacy (which some Olympic Stadiums havent been) and also be used for years to come after the Games.
    I can wait for the Games to begin, I so want to be part of it (and so dos everyone else) but to watch it or even be a volunteer would be brilliant.

  • Comment number 8.

    The Olympics provide a wonderful platform for everyone to rejoice at the opportunity to celebrate Great Britain. It doesn't matter where the athletes hail from, if they're wearing the red, white and blue the whole country should be behind them and waving their Union Jacks in support.
    London is the capital of Great Britain and best placed to host such a major event; the benefits will be UK-wide. People will be encouraged to participate in sport and the UK will demonstrate its ability to host world class sporting events - benefitting future bids.
    2012-2018 will be a golden era for British sport - Britannia shall rule!

  • Comment number 9.

    I think the Olympics will be a fantastic event and will really be something for the nation to get behind and enjoy. The success of Team GB in Beijing was brilliant for the entire country, the celebrations after the Rugby World Cup win in 2003 and the Ashes win in 2005 show that the country really comes together in celebrating sporting achievements. Coupled with the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations I'm sure 2012 will be a tremendous lift which after the recent past I'm sure we could all do with.

    People want to feel a part of these Olympics, which is one of the reasons I feel there was so much backlash against the Olympic logo (aside from the cost it took to design). People felt that it was out of touch and they dearly want these to be OUR games, a celebration of Britain.

  • Comment number 10.

    FoxesofNuneaton in #6: I haven't seen any nicknames for the Stadium yet, but I see what you mean. And good to know you're enthusiastic: Birmingham has done particularly well in attracting the big teams.

    Snowy_ajw in #8 and TheTomTyke in #9: I couldn't really add to those comments because they capture the spirit the BBC 2012 team finds around the UK. And Tom - you're right that sporting success is a pleasant alternative to some of the gloomier news we're surrounded by.

  • Comment number 11.

    Sporting glory inspire even those who normally have no interest in sport at all. I am totally unsporting and have the co-ordination of a left-footed buffalo on roller skates.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    "How important are big sports events to a country's identity" ? This nicely written blog by Roger Mosey I read in the middle of November last year. I wanted to visit the CWG venues in Delhi to see the significance of Roger Mosey's effort.

    There is tremendous activity going on in different parts of the Indian Capital City. New roads, buses, metros, sparkling IG Domestic and International Airport terminals, greening and beautification of the city, accomodation facilities and fabulous indoor and outdoor stadia are some of the nicest creations one sees in and around Delhi these days. Athletes, officials, fans and mediapersons from over 70 Commonwealth Countries are to descend on the Indian Capital and the CWG Organizers with the local administration are leaving no stone unturned to make the mega international sporting event a huge success.

    Time tested Indian culture, hospitality and historical sites in and around Delhi will certainly add further glamour to the event. Our athletes and sportspersons need to pocket medals and you have the picture complete.


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