Olympic headlines, stories and comments

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Before, during and just after the Olympics I kept a rolling diary of news stories, headlines and comments on things that caught my eye. I haven’t edited it down, so it’s pretty raw in places. I’m publishing it here so I can refer to it for inspiration during quiet moments during class, but other might be interested as well.

Part two is here
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Olympic diary notes, links and headlines

The Guardian has a live blog of each day’s events:

The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 kept a daily blog through the Games, going much further back in its archives:

12 July

  • G4S unable to recruit enough staff to provide security at the Games
  • G4S also said to still be in the process of telling their managerial staff what is to be expected of them, with less than two weeks to go
  • c3,000 troops brought in: had been on reserve, now being called up from Germany and other locations
  • M4 motorway still shut after six days: cracks appeared in a bridge and are taking longer than fix than expected
  • Immigration staff working to capacity at Heathrow much of the time, with visitors having to wait a while to get into the country
  • Questions being asked in the House of Commons to the Home Secretary and the phrase ‘Olympic shambles’
  • Residents lose bid to stop army putting missiles on the roofs of their tower blocks
  • McDonald’s loses its exclusive licence to sell chips (without fish…)


13 July

  • M4 reopens
  • G4S say they’ll lose $70m because they can’t recruit enough staff
  • No-fly zone comes into force around Olympic park
  • Navy sails up the Thames
  • Blair comes out to say Olympics will be worth it: that other competing cities/countries would low to have the Games
  • Cameron says £13m potential benefits: these are aspirational though, as admitted by Jeremy Hunt


14 July

  • Head of G4S says he’s sorry and that his company will foot the bill for soldiers covering their tasks
  • Costs expected to be some £50m and likely that the company will make an overall loss
  • Tessa Jowell asking where the issues arose: contracts, Home Office oversight, etc.?
  • Theresa May, Home Secretary, seems to have been out of the loop regarding updates which have been discussed between her officials and G4S – negligent for relying on assurances from G4S?


15 July

  • Further discussions about G4S
  • Reports that the Olympic lanes around London’s streets might be withdrawn if gridlock ensues


16 July

  • Big day for athletes to start arriving at Heathrow and elsewhere
  • M4 Olympic lane in operation: £130 fine if you stray into it
  • BAA may have overestimated the number of people needed to deal with the arrivals
  • By the end of the day G4S story still top of the news agenda with analysis that the army is now giving the orders
  • Initial news from athletes is that the village seems to be up to scratch


17 July

  • BBC Radio 4 discusses the 2005 Olympic Act: a ‘chilling piece of legislation’ according to Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty. Richard Caborn, who introduced the bill, says it’s been ‘very successful indeed’ and no one has been prosecuted as a result. Veiled threat that sponsors might pull out, and then we’ll suffer! SC says responses to use of rings should be proportional and balanced, a ‘light and common sense touch’.
  • Head of G4S Nick Buckles due before MPs at lunchtime to answer questions on recruitment, etc.
  • Nick Buckles says G4S didn’t take on the contract for monetary profit, but for reputational gain – this isn’t helping his own reputation or that of his company. Says he regrets ever signing the contract for the Games – bet that goes down well with all his staff who’ve been working hard over recent years. The phrase hitting the headlines is ‘humiliating shambles’ which Buckles was forced to agree to during his evidence. He also said G4S would be taking the $57m management fee.
  • 400,000 tickets have yet to go on sale and these aren’t just football tickets. Some have come from overseas Olympic Committees, as well as unsold Thomas Cook ticket + hotel packages. An opportunity to get lots of young people in to see the events?
  • Some venues are being reduced in capacity in order to ‘sell out’: Millennium Stadium and Hampden included
  • The weather has had an impact: heavy rain has affected the rowing venue and Greenwich Park. Bring your wellies says Lord Coe
  • Debate by the end of the day switching to whether the private sector should have been trusted to take on the role, which is now being picked up by the state: police and armed forces. Management of the security should have stayed with the Met, according to Ken Livingstone.

18 July
  • Black cab drivers and bus drivers are all keen to get a better deal out of the Olympics: bus drivers get a bonus, so won’t go on strike; taxis block roads to protest over not having access to lanes.
  • Immigration staff at Heathrow might walk out at the start of the Games.
  • Concerns that there’s no reason why G4S’s fees should have risen so much when asked to increase staff from 2,000 to 10,000 in December 2012.
  • Primary school children involved in the opening ceremony have been advised to wear ‘comfortable, unbranded or Adidas trainers’.

19 July
  • PCS union confirm that they plan to strike on 26 July… likely to be Heathrow’s busiest ever day as sponsors and fans arrive. Politicians don’t like it.
  • PCS putting the blame on the government for not engaging with them over the past 18 months and whipping up panic. Questions over whether the union will have public support, is this blackmail, only seven out of eight members actually voted, how many union members will follow through and strike, etc.
  • Debate over when Home Secretary knew that there were problems with the G4S recruitment issue. Likewise when will the company’s management fee be resolved?

20 July
  • Head of IOC has reached London (Jacques Rogges). Lots of athletes arriving at Heathrow.
  • Teresa May has been to see what’s going on and say it’s going well… let’s all enjoy the sport.
  • The torch reaches London and will spend the next few days travelling round the city.
  • Boris Johnson says there are a few last minute jitters, but that’s inevitable at an event of this scale. Army were always going to be part of the set up, now working very well with G4S (whose staff are doing a great job now).

22 July
  • Round up of ENU folk and the Games: Rebecca on Torch Relay; Aaron on Relay for Coke; Derek Watson at Old Trafford (accreditation?); Marc Stalker at LHR (accreditation manager); Penny Lambert at basketball arena (Sodexo); Grant Clark at volleyball.
  • Not much in the mainstream media, although torch continues.

23 and 24 July
  • The BBC has ramped up its coverage this week, bringing news programmes from the Olympic Park.
  • Claims that G4S staff have ‘cheated’ on tests on the security equipment designed to keep bombs and IEDs out of the venues.
  • Danny Boyle has been to see the BBC about their commentary of the opening ceremony – seeking to avoid the criticism that came with th Jubilee celebrations.
  • 1,200 more troops will be used – they’ve been called up out of the reserve force on stand by.
  • Opening ceremony dress rehearsals take place on Monday and Wednesday of this week.

25 July
  • Games lanes open on London’s roads
  • Border staff won’t be going on strike now
  • GB women win opening game of football competition
  • North Korean women refuse to play after the South Korean flag is displayed against their name at Hampden
  • An athlete fails a drugs test
  • It’s London’s hottest day of the year: 32C

26 July
  • Very enjoyable day in Glasgow for a couple of football matches: Honduras v Morocco; Spain v Japan. Japan won 1-0 and it could have been much more.
  • Torch relay is nearly at the end of its journey.

27 July
  • Opening ceremony day: positive press conferences, speculation over opening ceremony, Michelle Obama in town, etc.
  • Queen hosting VIP reception: 95 heads of state due: using the Games as an opportunity to push British business, business summits, political gatherings, etc.
  • #livesites material being gathered for future use.
  • First world records broken in the archery, although public have attempted to gain access because they thought ‘unticketed’ meant entry was going to be free.
  • BBC interviews director of Sydney ceremonies: David Atkins (18.45). He highlights: advances in technology since 2012; agrees with Boyle that Sydney worked on a ‘human level’; had to fill massive stadium so used lots of people; story is told through those performers; expects Boyle to try and capture ‘humanity’ of the event. Says Beijing had c$200m – more than Boyle’s £27m: says it’s vital that ceremonies reflect place and time, so we may not see the scale of Beijing but instead something more intimate from Boyle the storyteller (see his ‘personal’ films); Beijing lacked sense of story. On capturing live + TV audiences: Boyle ‘thinks in both those worlds’, so ceremony will work for the live audience as well as the billion watching on TV. How is he feeling now: he’s giving his show over to the cast and crew, which is disconcerting but has to be done!
  • The ceremony itself was very impressive: a run through a variety of revolutions in Britain’s history – agricultural, industrial, democratic, women’s rights, digital and communications. Lots of animals, forging iron, dance, saving the NHS, diversity of contributors and a lot of humour. Fireworks were great, torch lighting excellently done and the music was well chosen (except perhaps Hey Jude to finish off, again). Bringing th
    e athletes into the stadium was handled well, at a fair lick.
  • The Guardian’s own review: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/jul/28/richard-williams-olympic-opening-ceremony
  • The Guardian on international reviews: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jul/28/world-media-london-olympic-opening-ceremony
  • The Guardian on lighting the flame: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/jul/28/olympic-cauldron-lit-youngsters

28 July
  • The sport gets started in earnest, with swimming, the men’s cycling road race and gymnastics getting plenty of attention.
  • Sadness for the GB cyclists as they just weren’t able to control the road race: a breakaway broke away and couldn’t be caught. Seems that other nations just weren’t willing to help GB claw it back because they feared Mark Cavendish’s sprint finish.
  • Lots of empty seats have been seen at various venues: swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, dressage and of course football. Guardian reports that these are not thought to be primarily public seats, rather those reserved for Olympic family organisations: officials, sponsors, some media and so on.
  • The weather has been good however and most of everything seems to have gone very well.

29 July

30 July
  • Potential drugs issue brewing: is the young Chinese swimmer just too good?
  • Empty seats gate continues, with some being returned by international Olympic associations and sold to the public session by session.

31 July
  • Greenwich Market: local traders are gaining traction with their campaign to get more passing traffic out of visitors to the Olympic park.
  • Empty seats continue to be a problem, with LOCOG turning to late night sales and ‘print at home’ options.
  • Boris Johnson: presenting himself well, with lots of praise from sections of the international press. Political commentators popping up to say that this is likely to be Boris’s best chance to gain the leadership of his party.
  • UK press wondering where Team GB’s first gold medal is going to come from…
  • Estimated that one million extra people are in London each day, with plenty camping in the city. This includes those who are volunteering – Games Makers who are spending up to three weeks on makeshift campsites at rugby clubs and so on.
  • Traffic seems to be ok at peak times.

1 August
  • Olympic Park live site: ‘Park Live’.
  • A popular place to be, lots of folk here.
  • Sponsored by BT and don’t you know it: static branding, ident
    s within the live action, presenters doing spots with the crowd, a stage and who knows what else.
  • Audiences are catching up on sleep and have a bite to eat.
  • A relaxed air overall.
  • The crowd really don’t like it when important action is interrupted by BA or Lloyds TSB adverts: boos ring out around the live site. Is this a vision of what the BBC would be like if it interrupted its programmes to show adverts? We’re watching BBC coverage, with familiar BBC voices and commentators, but we’re not used to having it commercialised.
  • Within the park the live site is in a valley, on either side of the river – keeps it contained, provides natural seating, doesn’t interfere with the rest of the park: pathways are not blocked between venues and little sound or vision from the screens escapes.
  • Towards the end of the night, once the swimming finals have finished for the day, a curated package from the day is presented: introduced by the compere as ‘your [the crowd’s] best bits’. It features some footage of the crowd, competitions held with audience members, special guests that have turned up there through the day (medal winners, etc.) and it’s all done in British Airways colours, with flight attendants chaperoning guests around. So really it’s BA’s best bits?
  • Audiences within the park therefore seem tolerant of the commercially provided services until such time as they get in the way of their Olympic experience. We live in a world of adverts and the pressure to buy stuff… but we also have the BBC and a multi-channel Games which means we don’t have to put up with these interruptions.


General Olympic thoughts after a day at the park:

  • See photos and audio commentary for an overall story of the day.
  • This place is really big.
  • From an audience/attendee perspective it seems to have been smooth and straightforward for just about everyone I spoke to (which wasn’t really that many). Travel into, through and out of London was straightforward and buses, trains and so on worked well together.
  • Some dissenting voices about the Hyde Park live site because of having to take food and drink out of your bags, then buy stuff inside the site.
  • The different levels of contributor to site staff fit together well: police are not very visible but have big guns when they are, armed services only really in evidence at the entrance, G4S hardly visible at all, and there are lots of volunteers. Some have a very dry sense of humour which is delivered through their megaphones to keep people in line and wish them a safe journey home.
  • Spoke to a member if catering staff who emphasised the importance of working in partnership and when it can go wrong because one partner hasn’t delivered part of their deal: lack of facilities and services, etc.
Olympic news:
  • A cyclist was killed at the park when a double decker bus carrying officials hit him. He died at the scene.
  • Eight badminton players have been chucked out after they tried to lose their matches in order to secure a seemingly better draw in the next round.
  • Thousands lined the streets to watch Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome pick up gold and bronze for GB in the individual time trial.
  • GB also won gold in the women’s pair rowing.

2 August
  • The velodrome opens today: a gold medal was won by Hoy and co.
  • Interesting work from The Guardian to create a ‘second screen’ experience: http://second-screen.guardian.co.uk/olympics-2012# …pulling in material from writers, tweeters and other sources.

3 August
  • The main stadium opens for competition.
  • No major problems for transport or infrastructure it seems, despite the extra 160,000 people using the Olympic Park.
  • Jessica Ennis does very well in day of the heptathlon.

4 August

  • At ExCel for fencing
  • Brass band welcomes us, playing Copacabana and other hits.
  • As they finish the big screens tell us to applaud. We dutifully applaud.
  • Then a half hour build up to the sport, with a video showing lots of Olympic women talking about what inspires them.
  • We have an MC who tells us a bit of fencing history and urges to get into the Olympic spirit. He inspires us to stand up and wave our flags to see where people have come from. He keeps checking his notes and might not be particularly interested in what’s happening.
  • We then get into a cheering competition between the two sides of the arena to ‘inspire the athletes’.
  • The arena has seating on two sides, with four fencing pistes, plus a central one for the the evening finals. The video tells us a bit about how the sport works, including the team competition which we have today…
  • 8,000 spectators, 212 athletes.
  • A bit of backstage live footage: athletes call room, referees call room, warm up
    area, etc.
  • Careful control of the leaving process (as there had been on the way in when I was told not to take photos of the security arrangements). Many audience members are marshalled across the river to the DLR, which takes them through ‘London Pleasure Gardens’, scene of July’s disasterous club event.
In other Olympic news, 4 August turns out to be quite incredible for Great Britiain, with six gold medals, three in the track and field and others elsewhere. World records falls, Ennis is supreme, Mo Farah wins from the front and there is unbridled joy around the nation. Phelps wins his final, 18th gold medal.
  • In the Pembroke pub in Earls Court there are a few battles over which channel is shown on the big screens: the main BBC1 feed, the athletics feed or even the volleyball (which hadn’t even started when it was put on at the behest of some foreign visitors to these shores). The decision to stick with the athletics was roundly cheered though, with plenty of shouting, cheering, clapping and general celebration.
  • It’s remarkable how little news from the rest of the world punctures this bubble: Syria is in all out war in parts; lethal floods are ripping through North Korea and life continues.

5 August
  • Medals will come today in the sailing…
  • Sunday morning: BBC1 spends a lot of time talking to rowers, particularly the various women gold medallists – discussion about inspiring each other, women in sport and where they’ve come from.
  • Women’s marathon out on the streets of London: raining hard.

5-7 August
  • In the sport there have been a lot of medals for Great Britain, ultimately passing the total number of Beijing golds with five days to spare.
  • Venues visited by me include: volleyball at Earls Court and football at Wembley. Wembley superb, Earls Court looked tired, particularly outside of the immediate court area.
  • ExCel for fencing was good – done on a vast scale with the different sports that are using that venue.
  • Two academic events on 7 August: one all about papers and research and discussion, one based on wine and celebrating HE and FE. (Notes on the former available elsewhere.)

8 August
  • Newsnight on economic impact on the games: 8 August 2012
  • Paul Mason’s report:
    • Start of games: Cameron predicts £13bn benefit to UK.
    • Today: bank of England predicts zero growth overall for the year.
    • B of E: on whether the Olympics will boost UK economy: counting ticket sales and TV rights sales in next figures might have a small impact, but overall not very helpful to growth.
    • Local traders in east London: it’s been a normal summer for the most part, perhaps even less traditional footfall – visitors to the games aren’t reaching the local economy.
    • Hotel occupancy: 84% at start of games, up on 82% normal… But a post games dip is predicted. Restaurants also seeing downturn.
    • Olympics seem to have scared off economic activity: more people working from home, not travelling in, tourists spending time away from London…
    • But maybe impacts will come later: need to deliver vibrant venues used by all, creating a place where people want to work, live and play.
    • Felt that real legacy might be the ‘chaotic’ development of small businesses in the local areas – which is possible.
  • Studio discussion:
    • Central london has been surprisingly quiet: taxis, restaurants, etc.
    • But this has been a great advert for brand Britain that will hopefully pay dividends in the years to come as companies invest, set up headquarters, etc.
    • Inspiration for kids will hopefully come in sport, but also entrepreneurs and others who will see their future in London.
    • Jon Moulton: other host cities haven’t seen long term benefits – picks out Sydney and Athens; great facilities have been built, but likely to be near neutrality overall; also notes opportunity costs; has been a shortage of visitors spending money – some big stores listing takings down 50%.
    • John Vincent: knew that bounce wasn’t likely to be come; says we shouldn’t blame the games for lack of benefits – we should look at the intangible benefits and other impacts of throwing a huge party that everyone can be part of; we should also recognise we’re only half way through – Paralympics, etc to come so let’s get people into London while we’ve still got the chance.
    • Wonders whether we could have had information from the airlines in advance: didn’t they know that we weren’t going to have the number of visitors we were expecting?
    • Nicola Smith from TUC: says Olympics has been a great example of public and private working together, no accidental deaths on site, some great facilities, new infrastructure – but wider picture is that government isn’t helping the economy; large scale investment could be going in at a time when the country can borrow very cheaply, this should be followed up.
    • Likening Olympics to putting a man on the moon: doesn’t have an economic impact, but it’s inspirational; lifting the ‘national mood’.
    • How are we going are to measure economic impact: we can’t!
    • A need for Rio to learn from us, so that they don’t get their hopes up too high.


9 August

  • Newsnight discuss the physical legacy of the Games: the new venues, but particularly the new homes being built.
  • Being overseen by a Conservative councillor from Kensington and Chelsea through ‘London Legacy Development Company’.
  • Is keen to provide an environment in which those who do well in the area will actually stay there, rather than leaving as tends to be the case now.
  • There will be ‘affordable housing’ in the mix, but definitions of this are debated: the coalition is working on up to 80% of the market rate, which will likely still put them beyond the reach of many people in the area.
  • The site will become the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with the first athletes’ village flats opening to new residents from 27 July 2013.
  • Front page of many papers focuses on Chris Hoy and others warning the government that a reduction in funding for elite sport will see a reduction in the number of medals won at future games; likewise reduced funding of school and youth sport.
  • The coalition is under strain though: Nick Clegg has said he won’t now support boundary changes while the Tories oppose Lords reform. The economy is flatlining and there are few signs of growth. 

10 August
  • Despite finalists in the women’s and men’s BMX GB didn’t win a medal in either. Great spectacle though, helping demonstrate that the Olympics can maintain relevance as sport evolves.
  • The Modern Pentathlon persists though, with its relevatively antiquated rationale.