The Olympic flame came to Evesham today. I was there to watch it, along with other members of the town council and assorted dignitaries, from our position in the VIP viewing area. Although, actually, we didn’t really use the viewing area at all – like everyone else, we just pushed out into the road as the flame came past. Dignity goes out of the window when you’re watching history being made, especially if there’s a good chance to get some photos.
I like the Olympics. I really do. I like sport in general, and the quadrennial Olympiad is one of the things I genuinely look forward to. I’m immensely proud that the 2012 games are being held here in the UK, in the same year as the Queen’s diamond jubilee. And seeing the flame relay come through my adopted home town of Evesham has been one of the highlights of the year so far.
So I feel a bit churlish having a moan. Unfortunately, it’s a moan that needs to be, well, moaned. I’ve blogged before about the extent to which commercial interests have cast a shadow over the London Olympics (and parodied it, as well), and the torch relay isn’t immune either.
As well as the flame itself, and all the supporting vehicles, the torch convoy includes three sponsor vehicles: Samsung, Coca-Cola and Lloyds TSB (and always in that precise order, apparently). I don’t particularly object to them simply being there (although their presence has led to stupid results elsewhere), but one incident really did rankle.
The sponsor trucks come first in the convoy, and the lead truck (sponsored by Samsung) features what’s best described as a warm-up man who, with the aid of a DJ, attempts to whip the crowd up into a sponsored fervour: “Come on Evesham, make some noise”; well, actually, we’d been making plenty of noise before you even turned up, we’ve gone quiet for a bit now because you’re just the sideshow and we want the real thing (by which we don’t mean the second truck, sponsored by Coca Cola). But then, as the truck passed the Avonbank Brass Band (who had been doing an excellent job of entertaining the crowd and, well, making some noise) the MC looked down from the top and said “That’s great guys, thanks for coming, we really appreciate it”. And I wanted to be able to say to him, “You arrogant, patronising twat”.
This is our town, we don’t need some low-grade entertainer paid for by a South Korean electronics company to thank us for being there. On the contrary, you should thank us for letting you come along. We’re here to see the flame itself, not the hangers-on. You want to use the opportunity for a bit of marketing? That’s fine, that’s what you pay your sponsorship money for. But don’t try and pretend that it’s your gig, because it most certainly isn’t.
It wasn’t a huge incident, and by the time the flame itself came past I think most people had forgotten the sponsors anyway. But the fact that it was allowed to happen at all does leave me a little uneasy. I don’t object to sponsorship, and I don’t object to sponsors getting their money’s worth of publicity on the back of it. But it does seem to me that, in their desire to keep the sponsors happy and maximise the revenue they generate, LOCOG have allowed some boundaries to be crossed that should not have been crossed.
It’s probably too late to address that for the remainder of the torch relay, and it’s certainly too late to change anything that’s already settled in the contracts. But where LOCOG still has discretion on what it will allow, it should think carefully about how to exercise that discretion. The sponsors, too, should be careful how far they push it. It would be a real shame if one of the greatest sporting events on earth was spoiled by thoughtless commercialism.
Back to the flame in Evesham, though, you can watch it come through the town on the BBC torch relay website – select the morning recording, and Evesham starts at 11:29 in. You can see the rest of my photos either on Facebook or Google+. As you can see from the footage, the town centre was absolutely packed – on my way there myself earlier in the morning it seemed as if the whole population were all walking in the same direction. I don’t think I have ever seen anything similar, anywhere – probably the nearest is a football crowd on their way in or out of the stadium, but even then you know that they’re only a small proportion of the population. Today, there was barely anyone in town who wasn’t there. That’s what makes the Olympics worth celebrating, and that’s what I’m glad to be a part of.