What can we learn from the Olympics?

As I write this the Olympics are well under way and a fever has finally swept across the country.  When it was announced that London had won the bid, I wasn’t a fan.  I knew the first thing that would happen is that funding for the arts would be diverted and I wasn’t wrong.  They’ve tried to make up for that by some big Olympiad events this year but we have to be real – it costs a lot of money to put on the Olympics and that’s where the funds needed to go.

But I decided that I would embrace the Olympics a couple of years ago and found my energy and excitement by working at first with schools as part of the Coventry Creative and Media Diploma cluster and this year through Foxford School’s Community Olympiad, Castle Vale’s Community Games, Mencap’s We Dance project and by volunteering as a Coventry Ambassador (supporting the football that’s taken place at the Stadium).  For the majority of the last two years, not many have understood why I’ve thrown my self behind it but I knew that this was a way to bring people together, even if I had to work hard to help them see that.

So what can we learn from the Olympics? As a nation it has been largely rejected right up to the last moment, with fever coming only recently through in part the torch, mostly through the Opening Ceremony and certainly from getting into the competition itself as we back British athletes we’ve hardly heard of, in sports we largely never bothered with before.

Why? It has captured our imagination, fired our passion and united us in one large community.

How? There is something to be said by the principles that they have held at the heart of the planning.  We’ve had a giggle at some of the buzz words, especially with the parody TV show 2012 but let’s face it there’s nothing you want to disagree with.  We do want to inspire a generation, we do want there to be a lasting legacy of the games and we do need to see sustainability. Then you take the ideas and vision that has then taken these principles to make them reality and they have been delivered in such a way that it makes you want to back them.

Real people carried the torch! Not just athletes, or celebrities and not just former contestants of the XFactor, real people.  People who have given to their communities, made a difference and have been given a moment in the spotlight to contribute to the making of history.  I saw the torch come through Birmingham and I’m glad I did.  It was all a bit corporate/product placement but when it came to hearing torch bearer’s stories and seeing the moment the cauldron was lit, we all knew that something great was coming to the UK.

Whether you agree with me or not, the Opening Ceremony celebrated what makes us British, with a mixture of history, diversity and culture, a clever roller-coaster of emotions and awe as the film director shaped our journey. For those of us who live for making great thing happen using a cast of community performers and working cross-art form, we were impressed (well at least myself and others I’ve spoken to since) and of course we’d have loved a £20m budget. Then you take a simple idea of lighting a torch and do something with it that you wouldn’t expect: get the greatest British athletes who’ve been speculated at lighting the final cauldron and get them to hand the honour over to our future great athletes in the form of 7 young people.

We have then been impressed with the dedication, preparation and commitment of the athletes.  We’ve held our breath, screamed at the tv and given a collective aah when it’s not gone to plan.  It’s hard not to be moved by the complete joy of the gold medal winners especially when it’s our own country – with our national anthem taking on a new sense of occasion. For those who haven’t won? They are hard on themselves but we wont let them apologise or beat themselves up – they know and we know that there’ll be more times to prove their worth and that they are the kind of people who will learn from the experience and let it fuel them further.

What can we learn? Be inspirational with strong and ambitious principles. Be imaginative and put in place the resources needed to make things happen. Be committed, work hard, be resilient and celebrate achievements whether it’s gold or acknowledging that you’ve done your best this time and that there’s another time to work towards if you need to be better.

So what next. We need to not forget what we have learnt this summer.  We’ve learnt that something really expensive, something that seems to distract from what is a priority can actually turn out to achieve something remarkable.  Something which brings together communities, inspires people and makes a difference to more people than most can imagine.

claire@changingcultures.org 

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