Untold Stories of the Olympic Games

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A lecture about what is not reported during an Olympic Games, focusing on aspects of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

A lecture about what is not reported during an Olympic Games, focusing on aspects of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

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  • When I think about what an archive should be, I’m drawn first to considering the visions of the future that were never realized. These were visions of what we would like our future to look like, but which did not emerge due to society’s need for restriction, selection and political organization.   Consider the recently announced ArcelorMittal Orbit viewing platform in London 2012 Olympic Park (Figure 1). Celebrated and criticized in equal measure already, it is a work that will put public art at the centre of the Olympic park experience. Yet, it was one of many designs on the Olympic park that were imagined by people like us, who had aspirations for what the London 2012 Olympic Games should symbolize and represent. But, what do we know of these other projects, these other ways of promising the future to us?
  • The moment when a project like this is announced, all other visions of what might have been vanish into thin air, like this vision of ‘the Cloud’ (Figure 2), another design for a viewing platform in Olympic park, which did not succeed. Our perspective in the image is from within the cloud, looking over the park and the city of London.   Who will document these histories of the Olympic Games; the histories that were not realized? Indeed, it is not just architectural visions that are not realized. When London won the right to host the Games, back in 2005, it set out a number of bid promises to the IOC. These bid promises were visible for the nation to evaluate, they were part of the London 2012 website. However, they are no longer.
  • My point is not that London 2012 are hiding their promises – these are already in the public domain for everyone to see. Rather, my claim is principally that the Olympic Games proper exists within the grey zones that tend not to be recorded, reported or remembered. My contention is that the Olympic Games may never arrive to London unless we quickly realize how much work there is to be done in documenting the range of activity that emerges from this period of Olympic obligations.  
  • One place that has been effective at archiving the Games is the Olympic Studies Centre and archive at the IOC Olympic Museum in Lausanne. I have visited the museum on numerous occasions, as it holds the archives of the IOC, along with an extensive library of Olympic history. However, their systems of archiving the Games will not permit the capture of the stories I am talking about.   I am not talking about stories that may be seen by Olympic authorities as contrary to the promotion of Olympic values, though I will comet to those.   First, I am referring to official Olympic stories that are not effectively captured because they do not occupy a central position in the organizing committee or in the political economy of the IOC. This includes the documentation of the Cultural programmes that are constituted around the Games. Indeed, this absence is why Dr Beatriz Garcia and I set up this:
  • Indeed, this absence is why Dr Beatriz Garcia and I set up this:
  • At a time when LOCOG seems pained to emphasize how much cultural activity there will be in London around Games time, the broader dimensions of what has already happened are already losing prominence. Since 2008, the nations and regions – the constitutive parts of London’s Games – because remember, London 2012 is not just London’s Games – vast amounts of cultural activity have taken place, funded largely through a London Olympic & Paralympic body, the Legacy Trust. The projects within this programme do not enjoy a central position within LOCOG, they rely on quite limited pockets of money and, while there are systems to effectively document what has taken place, there is nearly no publicly visible archive of these works that allow them to explain their Olympic story.   Two years have passed since their main programmes have been instituted. Many of you may well have participated in activities that were associated with these regional and national funds, but did you notice that they were Olympic events? Possibly not.
  • It might seem surprising that moments like this are not widely documented, but in order to understand what we’re missing, we first need to understand what is actually taking place. I have been fortunate enough to attend one lighting ceremony in Olympia, which was for Sydney 2000. It is apparent from just being there that what is recorded by the media who are attending just is not adequate. Indeed, they would argue the same, since their images are taken from official camera feeds. Of course, part of this is a practical decision – in the same way that it is for the Olympic sports themselves – to have cameras from over 100 broadcasters would be a practical impossibility. As such, broadcasters can select feeds from different cameras belonging to the official Olympic Games broadcaster, which is a separate dedicated team of operators. Yet, what happens off camera is often the more interesting document of what happened.
  • At the Beijing Games, the lighting ceremony was perhaps the most controversial in history, as it was the target of Reporters without Borders, who were campaigning for journalist freedom in China. What we know about this moment is that it was not seen in china. The feed delay permitted the Olympic broadcaster to cut away from the camera until it was dealt with, but people in the stadium did record it. The activity surrounding the lighting ceremony is equally in need of recording and, in this case, included pro-Tibet protests.   As the torch went on its international leg – what would be the last time an international torch relay would take place – it was met with protests around the world and this raised new challenges for the media – notably due to the fact that it is ‘managed’ and thus dependent on the organizers to inform them where to locate cameras for television moments. Due to the last minute reorganization of these routes, the broadcasters were, at times, unable to locate the torch, but citizens on the ground coordinated their activity to keep track of it.   This example conveys a shift in the archival process towards the citizen organized archive. The ethos of this archival culture is already embedded into contemporary online practice. Indeed, we have become obsessive organizers of information. XXXX   None of this makes any more redundant the role of the institutional archivist. Consider images from the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. While there is a remarkable amount of content on photo sharing platforms like flickr – those who are involved with archiving understand that an archive is a curated entity, framed by a particular set of interests to document something in a very meaningful way. What distinguishes the role of the archivist today is that ownership of the archive does not reside in the ownership of content, but of the methodological data that underpins its ordering. Thus, we still need a gateway to Olympic content to make sense of what took place, to organize it and to put it into context.   This is why academics need to work especially close with organizations like the British Library to allow future historians to make sense of what happened here on the years leading up to and after the Games took place.   How will people make sense of places like this:
  • During the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, we piloted a process of Games time archiving, which relied on our team taking photographs and trying to document those aspects of the Games that tend not to be noticed by the official media. Games time archiving is particularly difficult and, most importantly, will require access to the Games at the highest level. This means securing ‘infinity’ passes for the archival team and it means getting LOCOG and the ODA to understand that their systems of archiving will not do enough to ensure that the history of this Games is written in its fullest sense. Making sure this happens will be no easy task. In fact, I don’t think anyone has done it yet. It will require a considerable degree of trust to bring about, strategic commitments from key figureheads who care about the historical recording of the Olympic period, not just the Olympic Games.   Yet, the biggest challenge would be in gaining support to articulate those dimensions of the Games that are not representative of the Olympic values. Remember, LOCOG, the ODA, the City of London and, perhaps most importantly, various aspects of the media, are under a contractual obligation to promote the Olympic values in their work. This restricts what the media can report within their Games time sports coverage structure, but it also alerts us to the fact that the expression of dissent occupies a very special place in Olympic history. Consider this example: How should we regard this moment in Olympic history? Is it to be celebrated or criticized? I put it to you that we should celebrate this XXX, but I recognize that it is difficult for an Olympic organization to endorse such a view. This is why it is necessary to ensure that archival research into these dimensions also benefits from funding that is unrelated to the delivery organizations, but we should not seek a complete separation as this will also lead to the marganization of these stories. We need, in particular, them to reach officialdom and become part of the official - acknowledged history. Consider another example, the Olympic Tent Village in Vancouver.
  • What would it have meant for this story to have become part of the official Olympic narrative/ What if Mayor Gregor Robertson in his speech at the closing Ceremony acknowledged how far the city of Vancouver still has to go to correct social injustices, some of which may have been exacerbate by their XXXX Olympic Games? Of course, people in the UK will have been completely unaware of the tent village or of the dramatic rise in homelessness over the Olympic period. They will also be unaware of the protests that took place on the day of the Olympic ceremony, the days leading up to the Games and throughout the Games themselves. But this was Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Games.
  • In september last year, I got married in a small place just between edinburgh and stirling. It was an intimate affair with only 14 people. My wife and I had these rings made up for our wedding After having spent 10 years around the Olympic movement. It would be fair to say that it was the Olympics that brought us together. We met at a place called the International Olympic Academy, in Ancient Olympia Greece. Since then, we’ve been quite cloely involved with the Olympic movement, undertaking research at the last 5 Games And writing numerous papers about the phenomenon Despite our own personal commitment to the idea of the Olympics, I remain something of a spanner in the works of what it does I encountered the Olympics via my work on the prospects of human enhancement in sport. At the turn of the century, the hype surrounding the human genome project led to claims that genetically modified athletes were not far off. And they’re not. So, I published a lot of work arguing on behalf of gene doping and, more generally, the biological transformation of athletes. This didn’t win me many allies in the sports world, but it did permit my involvement in a wave of work surrounding human enhancement. At each Olympic Games, I would be asked the same question ‘when could we expect to see GMAs?’ But these interviews were really part of a broader aspiration To hold the Olympic movement to greater account To achieve this, I was concurrently researching the rise of new media at the Games In Sydney 2000, I managed to blag myself access to one of the city’s Olympic media centres during Games time. The sole basis on which I achieved this was by having my own website, which, at the time, was still relatively unusual. During Sydney’s Games, it emerged that there were – in addition to the 20000 journalists in town to report the Games, a large number of journos wanting to cover other aspects of the Games And quickly, I became one of them, always working within a Games time media centre Expecting to see whether and how these non-sport journalists were able to disrupt the Olympic narrative by reporting other dimensions. After Sydney, this grew into a wider ambition to effect change via these new independents My wife and I went to Lausanne in 2001 for 2 months, working around the Olympic museum, meeting IOC staff And launched a network of Olympic researchers – very quickly getting into trouble for doing so. Because, of course, these rings along with many other aspects of what I do Are not endorsed by the IOC or the other Olympic organizations Which have been protected by British law most recently within the Olympic Bill of 2005 Which limits any activity that may threaten the successful carrying out of the Olympic Games The implications of such legislation are far reaching. In China last year, it led to their temporarily opening up to reporting by foreign journalists. Only to close down again, soon after the Games. What do I mean by design politics? I mean the range of creative visions that converge around a Games and their negotiation via various stakeholder priorities
  • Third, it requires cultivating sensitivity to the Olympic Games experience and understanding how to navigate this mega-event. The Olympic Games is a remarkably disorienting experience for the tourist/citizen. I have tried to document an Olympic Games 6 times now and still return from the city feeling as though I have not got all the photographs I should have got. Archiving the London 2012 will require a dedicated team of researchers, perhaps drawing on the volunteer population. Members of the teams should be dedicated to specific dimensions of the Games experience, but notably should not focus on documenting the sports themselves. Aspects of such a programme would include documenting the venues (this is why access is crucial), reporting what happens on the streets, within the cultural venues and the many non-Olympic spaces that become part of the Olympic city, such as the way in which billboards occupy places, or the way that important political places become utilized by people during the Games – as in this protest during the Athens 2004 Olympic Games when a manifestation occurred on behalf of workers who lost their lives in the construction of the venues. Alternatively, in Torino 2006, just around the corner from the Athlete’s village, was this building branded with the phrase ‘Repression Lives Here’, a play on words of the Torino official slogan ‘Passion Lives Here’.
  • Third, it requires cultivating sensitivity to the Olympic Games experience and understanding how to navigate this mega-event. The Olympic Games is a remarkably disorienting experience for the tourist/citizen. I have tried to document an Olympic Games 6 times now and still return from the city feeling as though I have not got all the photographs I should have got. Archiving the London 2012 will require a dedicated team of researchers, perhaps drawing on the volunteer population. Members of the teams should be dedicated to specific dimensions of the Games experience, but notably should not focus on documenting the sports themselves. Aspects of such a programme would include documenting the venues (this is why access is crucial), reporting what happens on the streets, within the cultural venues and the many non-Olympic spaces that become part of the Olympic city, such as the way in which billboards occupy places, or the way that important political places become utilized by people during the Games – as in this protest during the Athens 2004 Olympic Games when a manifestation occurred on behalf of workers who lost their lives in the construction of the venues. Alternatively, in Torino 2006, just around the corner from the Athlete’s village, These stories constitute the Olympic Games. They are what happened. The Olympic records and results are just one part of this movement.

Transcript

  • 1. Untold Stories of an Olympic Games British Library, April 20, 2010. Professor Andy Miah, PhD @andymiah @uwscreative www.andymiah.net university of the west of scotland Editor, Culture @ the Olympics http://www.culturalolympics.org.uk
  • 2. London 2012 Olympic Park, ArcelorMittal Orbit , designed by Anish Kapoor, Photo by ARUP
  • 3. www.raisethecloud.org
  • 4.  
  • 5.  
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  • 12.  
  • 13. BUT WHAT ELSE DO WE FAIL TO HEAR ABOUT?
  • 14. THE OLYMPIC GAMES BEGINS HERE Ancient Olympia, catching rays from the sun to light the Olympic flame The traditional and recurrent media moments of the Olympic Games
  • 15.  
  • 16. PHOTO: ROY PANAGIOTOPOULOU Olympia 2008, Lighting ceremony for Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
  • 17.  
  • 18. Beijing 2008 torch relay, citizens track the international leg, while broadcasters fail
  • 19. AND THEIR VENUES Coca-Cola place, Beijing 2008 Photo by Andy Miah
  • 20. "It is very discouraging to be in a team with white athletes. On the track you are Tommie Smith, the fastest man in the world, but once you are in the dressing rooms you are nothing more than a dirty Negro." - Tommie Smith
  • 21.  
  • 22. 21% of Vancouverites plan to boycott the Games http://www.flickr.com/photos/darkness/3278949127/
  • 23.
      • Photograph by Kris Krug
    • Olympic Resistance Network press conference (2010, Feb 7)
  • 24. CONCLUSION
  • 25. Tweetdeck (Twitter browser) screenshot during Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games
  • 26.  
  • 27. SPONSORS OR LEFT EMPTY Billboard exclusivity at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games
  • 28. Torino 2006 Olympic Games, sponsor billboards
  • 29. Athens 2004 Olympic Games, protest for 23 construction workers
  • 30. Athens 2004 Olympic Games, protest for 23 construction workers
  • 31. Athens 2004 Olympic Games, protest for 23 construction workers
  • 32. Torino 2006, Athletes’ village
  • 33.  
  • 34.