Sochi 2014 Link Roundup: We’re Up All Night to Get Lucky

That's gonna leave a mark in your mind, isn't it?

That’s gonna leave a mark in your mind, isn’t it?

The problem with the Olympics is for the most part, I’m too busy watching the Olympics to write about the Olympics. So I’ve been reading and watching at the same time. As I write this, some Canadian my age is bringing it on television.

Did you read all those tweets from journalists about the dire conditions of their housing in Sochi? Well according to Russian bathroom cameras, it’s not that bad. Be mindful of the #SochiProblems hashtag, though — it’s both undependable and wrought with privilege. At first I figured it was the Sochi Organizing Committee’s problem, not prioritizing media housing before I realized it was likely they didn’t care to impress the American media anyway.

Please tell me you watched the Opening Ceremony! I was disappointed this clip of the Russian police choir singing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” wasn’t part of it, but Anne Helen Peterson brought up a good point:

While there was some dramatic irony present with the official Sochi gloves having rainbow fingers, this article from GQ on what it’s like to be gay in Russia is a sobering reminder of what has been the loudest contention with these Games.

NBC edited out way more than they needed to, and the commentators were frustratingly biased.

But the Parade of Nations were a delight as always BRINGING IT with the fashionable clothing and drop dead gorgeous athletes. The Chinese President came, while our American president abstained, even if he spoke to Bob Costas minutes before the Opening Ceremony premiered.

Of course, the Olympic athletes have been bringing it! Loved how Jamie Anderson and Sage Kotsenburg are representing the USA after winning gold in slopestyle — which is an Olympic event for the first time ever. Especially since Sage decided to try a technique he’d never done before seconds before his last race.

I also found out Curling is a much harder sport than it lookshow Olympians get their intense motivation, and got down about how Indian athletes can’t play under their country’s flag.

Finally, I’m announcing my event, “MEDAL-HEADS: A DAY AT THE OLYMPICS.” If you’re anywhere near Brooklyn this Sunday, come to Videology to watch some Olympics, play Olympics trivia (if you’ve been reading this blog, you’re already ahead), and finally, FINALLY watch my Medal-Heads documentary in London! If you want a preview, check out this article on Olympic failure: “Here’s the first difference between watching the Olympics on television and watching them in person: It is devastating when someone falls down.” If you’re nowhere near Brooklyn, I’ll post the trivia up after the event and you can plan your Olympics party with some great Russian food.

One last thing:

Oh, COME ON.

NBC Intern Files: Emilie, Part II: “There was a photo to be taken at almost every moment”

Emilie Mateu, a USC undergraduate senior, was an NBC intern during the London Olympics this past summer. She shared her experiences on her blog, An American Frog in London. She answered several questions on her amazing experience. This is Part II; read Part I here!
The Tower Bridge (from Emilie's blog)

The Tower Bridge (from Emilie’s blog)

I saw you have some pictures from instagram! I saw a lot of pictures from the Olympics on there. Did you notice that too? Were there any you liked in particular?
The Olympics is one of the few things that almost everyone watches, so naturally all forms of social media (including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) were inundated with Olympics related content. For those of us that were lucky enough to be at the Olympics, there was a photo to be taken at almost every moment. One of my favorite photos that I took, aside from those that I took at the many events I attended was of the big Olympic rings hanging from the Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge is so iconic of London and to see the rings hanging from it made the whole scene seem even more unreal than it already does.
Watching Phelps and Franklin win gold (from Emilie's blog)

Watching Phelps and Franklin win gold (from Emilie’s blog)

You wrote that now you prefer sports over the news. Can you expand on why?

NBC Intern Files: Emilie, Part 1: “It still seems surreal”

Emilie Mateu, a USC undergraduate senior, was an NBC intern during the London Olympics this past summer. She shared her experiences on her blog, An American Frog in London. She answered several questions on her amazing experience.

from American Frog in Paris

USC Interns fight on in Bob Costas’s Studio (from Emilie’s blog)

Why did you want to take this internship?

I would say that I was lucky to have been offered this internship! How could I not take it?! As a Broadcast Journalism major, it doesn’t get better than being offered an internship working with NBC for the Olympics. I had just studied abroad in London so I was really excited to be going back to such a fantastic city for such an epic world event. I have always loved the Olympics because it is one of the very few events that peacefully brings together people from all over the world and it still seems surreal that I was able to play a role in bringing the Olympic experience into people’s homes.

Bob Costas at London 2012 (via USA Today)

Bob Costas at London 2012 (via USA Today)

You said in your blog post, “I was called on to do everything from finding and buying 50 identical Sony headphones from three different stores, to picking up the gymnastics Director from the hospital. Andy and I would always joke that our skill sets were being used to their fullest capacities.” What are the weirdest assignments you had and why?
As far as weirdest assignments, buying 50 identical headphones was perhaps one of the most time consuming tasks I had because I had to go to three different electronic stores around London – in traffic – to find all of them. Another memorable moment (though there are many) was on a news shoot with Bob Costas. I got to go out on a lot of fun shoots and actually had to hold an umbrella over Bob Costas once when it was raining…Naturally I was the one getting rained on!

Exploring the London 2012 National Hospitality Houses

This is an expanded version of an article previously posted and written for PDiN Monitor as part of the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy. See the previous version here.

The London 2012 Olympics—what an exciting place to be! Kia and I were able to experience this first hand. We found that some of the most intriguing settings were the National Hospitality Houses scattered throughout the city.

The National Hospitality Houses (NHHs) were pubs, museums, historic buildings, and parks that national Olympic committees rented for the duration of the games to …what? Well, the problem with describing all these houses is that they all had different purposes. Some, such as the USA hospitality house, were not open to the public. Continue reading

How Londoners Stopped Worrying And Learned to Love the Olympics

The main reactions I’ve seen from residents of London (based on random interviews around London) about the Olympics has been:

a) Fear

b) Cautious excitement

c) …Followed by actual excitement

d) Devastating snark

Let me break it down.

The first is likely because everyone was worried about the devastation we visitors and tourists would do to the transportation and general aura of the city. Although it’s primarily about how stuffed the Jubilee line has become — although it really is nothing compared to the PATH train from New York to New Jersey.

Jubilee Line At Canning Town

Er…at least everyone is standing politely.

The cautious excitement came after the realization that actually, it wasn’t all that bad. The tourists were nice enough. The city hadn’t broken down. It was like a sigh of relief. The Opening Ceremony was particularly promising, with its rampant wit and references to James Bond and Harry Potter and Mr. Bean.

Mr Bean

via News.Com.Au

And that cautious excitement became actual excitement when various British athletes — such as Jessica Ennis, Rebecca Adlington, and most recently, Andy Murray, began to do the country proud. People gathered in pubs and at home to cheer these people on.

Andy Murray and his awesome Union Jacket via the Guardian

And finally, there’s the devastating snark, hinted at during the Opening ceremony, that I’ve seen all around. Here are some (unfortunately mostly unrecorded) conversations I’ve been a part of (though I’ve also been eavesdropping):

“Did you seen the Queen during the opening ceremony? When they went to her when the UK finally came up in the nations walk, she was looking at her nails. And the commentator said, ‘Here’s the Queen, clearly riveted.’ It’s like, no she’s not, she’s just looking at her nails!”

“I like the signs that tell people where to go. But they’ll be pointing all in one direction until you turn a corner and then they’ll point the opposite way!”

Me: (in conversation with someone else) “It’s really hard to get British people to talk to me [on camera].”
Random woman standing in between us: “Oh, it’s really hard to get us to stop talking.”

“I believe Usain Bolt is the Noam Chomsky of the Olympics — it’s just really easy for him to do what he does.”

“I could run as fast as Usain Bolt, if I tried!”

“Oh, Michael Phelps, is he the pothead?”

Announcement on DLR: “I’ve just heard that Andy Murray has won the gold, everyone! Let’s have some cheers for him!”
Everyone in the front cheers; everyone else: “Yeaaaaahhh…!”

“I love Jessica Ennis, she’s like the next Princess Diana!”

“My favorite athlete is the swimmer, Andy Murray.” (Admittedly this came from a seven-year-old.)

“Oh, the Olympics. I should watch that.”

Finally, this woman in Stratford, directing people around the Olympic Park:

This woman

To various fans passing her: “You alright, sir? …Are you alright? …You’re alright, of course…You alright?”

;

Guest Post: If I Could Just Have a Minute of Your Time

Here’s another great guest post from an Annenberg alum (with a master’s in global communication), Jason Reinin, about the IOC’s decision not to have a moment of silence for the murders at the 1972 Munich Olympics. To learn more about the events at Munich, please read the powerful book ‘One Day in September’ or watch the documentary (narrated by Michael Douglas) of the same name for free here.

1972 Munich

The 1972 Israeli Delegation to the Olympic Games with those numbered who did not return.

 

I love the Olympics.  I cheer for the US in any sport they’re in, even if it’s an obscure sport I’ve never heard of.  And I’m not alone.  I root for the same team as every American.  Black, white, rich, poor, Muslim, Christian, tall, short, young, old, you name it…we Americans root side-by-side for the team that represents us all. The Olympics are a unifying force that pushes us past our political differences and towards our commonality.

But it’s more than that.

When the Olympics are on, I find myself not just rooting for the US, but for all the athletes. While techniques for the various sports may differ from country to country, the human spirit and drive for excellence is the same. Watching 204 countries representing a beautiful tapestry of humanity, of every color and social class, competing in the same rigidly controlled sports competitions is truly awe-inspiring. As if a thousand accents were all speaking the same language simultaneously around the world.

The magic of the Olympics is the unification of the globe in an apolitical way.  It has the power to unite all humankind through our common bonds. And this is why I was disappointed by the choice that was made to not hold a minute of silence for the 11 Olympic athletes murdered 40 years ago.

At the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany, there was a sense of hope reverberating around the globe.  A country that was the pariah of the world, an invader of countries and perpetrators of the Holocaust just decades prior was now holding an event to bring the world together.  This was an idea celebrated throughout the world, and having Israel, the Jewish State, compete was good for everybody.

Unfortunately, this hope was soon shattered as a terrorist group named ‘Black September’ (named for the Jordanian massacre of Palestinians in September of 1970) simply climbed the fence into the Olympic village and went looking for the Israeli team.  Two members of the Olympic delegation from Israel were murdered immediately and nine members were taken hostage with demands that 200 political prisoners be freed from various countries around the world. The Olympics had a decision to make. Do they carry on with the games or do they stop them?

It took 11 hours before Germany stopped the games.  After more hours of negotiation and pleading, Germany took the terrorists and the hostages to a nearby airfield where they were supposed to board a plane to escape, but instead were met with snipers who killed all but three of the Black September group. Unfortunately this was a botched mission and before the snipers could kill the terrorists, all the hostages were murdered.

This wasn’t just an attack on Israelis, but also an attack on the idea that the Olympics are a place to rise above politics.  We cheer for gold medalists of any competition, not because s/he comes from a specific country, but because we recognize how hard it is to reach true excellence.   Conversely, we feel the same way for those athletes who stumble and fall because we have all been there ourselves.  We empathize with the athletes because they are all human beings and thus a reflection of our global family. And when members of our family pass away, we hold memorial for them.

It is now 2012 and the 40th anniversary of the 11 murdered in Munich.  Many requests were made by Israel and several peace groups to hold a minute of silence during the opening ceremonies. The 1972 Israeli team participated in a global healing process by competing in Germany where 6 million of their people were murdered. The least the Olympic committee can do is spare one minute to pay respect and show solidarity in the same spirit.

I understand, however, that anything having to do with Israel is automatically a politicized issue, and the Olympic committee, as I’ve seen, usually bends to the polemics. This can be seen most recently with news that the Lebanese team has refused to practice next to the Israeli team without a wall being built between them. Instead of the IOC rising above the politics of these countries, they literally put a wall in between them.  However, in the greater scheme of things, it does not make a difference if the 11 murdered were Israeli or not. The reality is that those lost could have been any athletes from any country.

I’m disappointed because it is such a rare opportunity that the world has this chance to rise above politics and demonstrate global unity.  Holding one minute, not for Israeli athletes, but for the HUMAN athletes would demonstrate that the politics of a terrorist group cannot overrun the games and that the humanity of a global family can shine through.

Just as I would cheer for any athlete winning gold and representing the excellence of mankind or tense up when any athlete from any country stumbles, I would mourn and argue for this moment of silence for any country that had this tragedy befall them. Not for the benefit of the specific country, but for the human spirit of us all. The Munich massacre was not an Israel-specific tragedy, but an Olympic (and therefore global) one.

Yes, memorial services have been held in the past and off-camera remarks have been made with true and sincere caring about the lost athletes. However, the horror of Munich took place in front of the world to politicize an issue and therefore it seems only appropriate to commemorate it by holding a moment of silence in front of the world to see. Just to spare one moment during the opening ceremony would have been a strong showing that we are indeed a world family. We must show those who are against the idea of a global humanity that the Olympic family, as a representation of the world family, doesn’t just let our members be executed and forgotten.  I agree with Olympic broadcaster Bob Costas who, before taking a self-imposed on-air 5 seconds of silence during the opening ceremony, said, “…For many, tonight with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost and how and why they died”.  There are rare moments in time when we can do the right thing on a global level, and I believe the IOC missed its moment here.

Shortly before being taken hostage, Andre Spitzer, one of the members of the Israeli team, approached a member of the Lebanese team and had a short, cordial conversation with him about sports. Outside of the Olympics, this would have been almost impossible given the political situation. Upon Andre’s return to the Israeli team he remarked, “…that’s exactly what the Olympics are all about; here I can go over and talk to them…you see? This is what I was dreaming about…”

Human commonality and spirit above politics, this is what we should all dream about.

In the face of an Olympic tragedy, an Olympic minute for memorial was asked. One minute to honor those lost. One minute of a three-hour ceremony. One minute to showcase global unity.

The time it took you to read this post was probably about five minutes.

CPD Blog: For the Fans

I wrote an essay for the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy blog for an in-depth look at my project.

via the New York Times

via the New York Times

The Olympics are never free of controversy. The competing agendas of Olympic stakeholders lead to clashes–tensions are born and re-awakened. Everything from the problematic omniscience of the International Olympic Committee and NBC’s intense focus on the United States  to the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games’ many bouts with disgruntled Britons  has contributed to an Olympic Games that is, per usual, a mixture of excitement and annoyance.

via ScreenRant.com

via ScreenRant.com

The most constant part of the Olympics is the fans. Not necessarily the intense sports fans; just the people who love the Olympics, who weave their enthusiasm into their everyday lives. The Games will just never want for fans because they appeal to everyone to some degree, whether casual or passionate. Even if you’re not a particular lover of sports, the opening ceremonies promise to entertain (thanks to Danny Boyle bringing in elements such as sheep and Daniel Craig as James Bond ). And perhaps a new sport will catch your eye; if not because of the novelty of a sport like synchronized swimming being showcased on an international scale, then perhaps because of spellbinding Olympic moments with athletes like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. Then there are the people who want to see the bliss of the Olympics in real time and come to the actual place – maybe for the first time or the fifth, but nevertheless with passion.

As a Master’s of Public Diplomacy student at the University of Southern California, these are the people that are of most interest to me. I want to see the people who want to be mired in the exhilaration of the Games. Before entering my degree program, I was already vaguely interested in the Olympics, but through my studies, specifically in cultural diplomacy, I focused my perspective on the Games as an international diplomatic event that has several combating schemas with everyone in the world potentially watching.

via the Economist

via the Economist

To take a closer look at the Olympics as a tool of cultural diplomacy, I am making a documentary focusing on the motivations and desires of these fans. I chose a documentary because of my past experience in production and to be able to tell these fans’ stories in their own words. Through them, I will also analyze the magnetic draw of the Olympics that entices broadcasterscorporate sponsors and host countries to pay billions of dollars merely to be associated with the Games, even if they do not gain from it monetarily. In terms of the visibility, the profit is enormous, even more so now that approximately one third of the world’s population is connected by the Internet; and, this Olympic Games is the most social-media fueled ever  thanks to the popularity of sites like Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.

This latter element is another part of my project – connecting with fans around the world as they gather either in London or in front of their screens through my blog and other social media. Fans connect in different ways through this media: Tumblr focuses on sharing photos (such as that of the Olympic Torch going through their respective towns); Facebook has a special page for fans to focus on athletes; national broadcasters host Q & A sessions with athletes on Twitter.

Before the Opening Ceremony, I am focusing on the various news stories surrounding the Games: the IOC’s gender regulation, ticket controversies, and the frustration of the fans at the policing of their entertainment, which can range from a restriction on using “London 2012” on anything to banning gifts to the athletes because “free” will compete with corporate sponsors. During the Games, I will go directly to London and meet with the fans – specifically at the London festival, fan-hosted events, and any areas where fans congregate, such as Olympic concerts.

For such a politicized, monetized, and overwrought event, it is inspiring to find sincere anticipation. Of course, every type of event where there are winners and losers has cynicism, but the problems feel more pronounced on an international scale. The fans may be the main audience for all these different agendas and the most irritated by the various mishaps and missteps, but they are also the ones who will be watching no matter what.

Guest Post: Can Sport Really Change The World? (Part II)

Here is Part II of Kelsey Suemnicht’s epic essay. Read Part I here.

The British band “Kinetika Bloco” performs on the Great Wall of China in 2007 to help promote the upcoming Games. / SOURCE: Apple Travel

The Arts / Cultural Diplomacy

My favorite part of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter is “to encourage and support initiatves blending sport with culture and education.” A slice of culture permeates through the television and into our living rooms during the opening and closing ceremonies, appointed times for the host country to display examples of its performing arts heritage. But the cultural programming surrounding any Olympics Games is best experienced in person.

There is a constant buzz of exhibits and performances that entertain fans of the Games outside of the competitions. In Salt Lake City, dance troupes from around the western United States were chosen to perform at street fairs and celebrations held in the evenings, after competitions had finished for the day. During its Games, Turin held one of Italy’s renowned White Nights or “Notte Bianca”, where a city offers free admission to all of its museums for 24 hours.

Fans walk the street during “La Notte Bianca” (or White Night) of the 2006 Turin Olympics / SOURCE: Sports Illustrated

The Olympic city showcases it’s own art but also plays host to visiting artists from around the world. The cultural diplomacy surrounding the games can be ad hoc, when visiting fans feel compelled to play their music on a street corner or it can also be organized based on significant partnerships. A connection is often forged between the current city and the next city that will host the Games. For example, the “Canada House” was given a prominent location along a main street at the Turin games, providing a forum for Canada to showcase it’s pride as the host of the 2010 Games. Some attendees wouldn’t have otherwise thought to attend the Vancouver Games if they hadn’t first experienced the preview of Canadian hospitality in Turin.

In many ways, the arts provide a stronger experience of a foreign culture in a way that is more potent than any sport could ever be. By incorporating cultural diplomacy within the games, the Olympics provides an excellent example of a well-rounded public diplomacy campaign.

Food / Culinary Diplomacy

Encompassed within the IOC’s mission is the goal of “[ensuring] the regular celebration of the Olympic Games;” this includes obtaining adequate sponsorship funds to keep the Games afloat. It’s convenient to find your favorite snack at a soccer game or to see a familiar bottle of water when you’ve hiked to your stadium seats. But, the local fare is not to be missed (and is often free, offered as a symbol of cultural exchange)!

Swiss Chef, Béda Zingg, served fondue, charcuterie and more at the Swiss House in 2010. SOURCE: Straight.com

Rumor has it, the Beijing Games ran out of refreshments to sell because they underestimated how many visiting fans would want to try their traditional foods. Wandering the streets of Salt Lake City were Hot Chocolate Ambassadors, sponsored by Nestlé, serving free cups of chocolate to fans. At the base of the mountain north of Turin, where all Ski events were held in 2006, the people of Sestriere would serve traditional dishes every evening. Sport unites fans because it’s a common experience publics can share, but what more common of an experience is there than eating?

Transaction

If the period of sustained interaction with foreign publics is only two weeks, it’s important to capitalize on opportunities for attendees to engage with each other. The element of transaction finds root in the IOC’s commitment to “take action in order to strengthen the unity and to protect the independence of the Olympic Movement.” The Olympics excels at providing forums, incentives, and methods for transaction, because it depends on appealing to the international nature and the willingness of the attendees to participate in communal events. My memory of this element occured in two forums at the Olympics I attended: the Pin Trade and “Hospitality Houses”.

The Olympic Pin Trade provide a connection between fans from around the world. Surrounding any Games, an attendee will notice fans trading different pins between each other. Some do it for fun but others come to each Olympics with serious goals to acquire pins new and old. This is an excellent forum in which transaction and exchange can occur, even without two fans needing to speak the same language.

Holland House Party, 2010 SOURCE: Vancouver Magazine

Hospitality Houses are another forum the Olympics provides for transaction between fans. Countries can set up a tent or take over a park for a chance to showcase their country’s hospitality customs. Inside each Hospitality House are many forums in which fans can interact with each other, country representatives, sponsors, and athletes. Above, the notorious Holland House is sponsored by Heineken and offered discounted drinks, lounge areas, and a live Dutch DJ mastering the ceremonies each night at the 2010 Vancouver Games. As was showcased earlier in culinary diplomacy, Switzerland used its House as a restaurant, offering gourmet traditional cuisine to any fan who could make a reservation. The next country to host the Games might offer a preview of what is to come in four years, as was the case for Canada. For the London 2012 Games, the African countries will unite to put on a Hospitality House representing an entire continent for the first time.

Transaction implemented for the goal of transformation is a useful public diplomacy tactic to create experiences that will enable more effective and thorough international relations. The foundation of effective public diplomacy is listening, the most basic transaction. All diplomacy should strive to be transactional in order to establish a trusting international relationship. Harvard University Professor Joeseph Nye discusses transactional and tranformational power in his book, The Powers To Lead:

 “Transformational leaders… use conflict and crisis to raise their followers’ consciousness and transform them. [They] mobilize power for change by appealing to their followers’ higher ideals and moral values…. Transactional leaders rely on various individual interests. [They] create concrete incentives to influence followers’ efforts and set out rules that relate work to rewards” (62-63).

When we view the Olympics as a public diplomacy event, transformation is the goal, similar to the principal goal for foreign exchange programs between universities of different countries. Transformational experiences in regards to a foreign public give citizens concrete experiences as evidence for changing their mind against conflicts with that foreign public. Critical transactions work towards achieving the goal of transformation.

With the Olympics offering an opportunity to employ such productive public diplomacy tactics, could this experience be replicated elsewhere? Or does it only work every two years, because it is such a rare experience? Do to the Olympics capitalize on the experience enough to reap the benefits of such a strong public diplomacy event?

The Olympics prove that publics are willing to interact and connect, but that they need to be provided with the forums in which to do so. I challenge you to seek out the Olympic Experience for yourself; to discover if it may change you or, better yet, inspire you to change the world.

Guest Post: Can Sport Really Change The World? (Part I)

Here is the latest guest post from my Master’s of Public Diplomacy peers — this time from Kelsey Suemnicht, whose in-depth analysis needed to be split in two for your reading pleasure!

The Olympics is an event that makes international relations feel easy and fun. Considering the Olympic Games as an example of a large-scale public diplomacy campaign, I highlight five themes that support its efforts as a catalyst in cross-cultural relations: individual empowerment, regionalism, art, food, and transaction. In the realm of diplomacy, the Olympic dream represents the hope that sport is truly capable of changing the world; the direct influence upon, engagement of, and interaction between fans surrounding the competitions is evidence that it can.

The Olympic rings lit up on the Tower Bridge

The Olympic rings lit up on the Tower Bridge (via Mirror UK)

As David Mandel explained in his post, “Pride and Prejudice 2012,” hosting an Olympic games signifies a proud moment for any city, region, country, population. The strength of any Games comes from the support of the local community and the experiences of attendees within those communities, which I feel is rarely captured on television. It is the experiences in forums on site that exemplify basic public diplomacy and where the cross-cultural relations that support the spirit of the Games most often occur.

My Olympic experience took place in two locations that are significant to my own narrative. My cousins’ hometown of Park City was headquarters for all ski and snowboard events for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. It was an influential experience to act as the host country and to watch the best atheletes in the world ski the same runs on which I had learned how to crash and fly as a child. The 2006 Torino games coincided with my junior year of college when I chose to study political science and the Italian language abroad in Bologna and Rome. The opportunity to view the Olympics through the eyes of a new culture was a fundamental experience in my pursuit of public diplomacy as a career.

When we tune in to the Olympics on television, we’re privvy to exclusive interviews, sweeping photography of the host city, and the back-to-back coverage of fast-paced competitions. But the constantly-promoted “Olympic Spirit” can be accessed at its crux in the midst of the Games as an attendee. What happens off-camera, on your way to the stadium, as one leaves an arena, and in the outer-lying towns? The essence of public diplomacy.

Jesse Owens, 1935

Jesse Owens, 1935

Individual Empowerment / Citizen Diplomacy

Individual empowerment is a cornerstone of the Olympic Charter: ”The role of the International Olympic Committee is to act against any form of discrimination,…[implement] equality between women and men,…and to provide for the social and professional futures of athletes.” The Olympics provides citizens an opportunity to participate as diplomatic actors on behalf of their home countries. The most visible example of this theme is celebrity diplomats. A legendary athlete can change a sport simply by being themselves, exhibited by the examples of Jesse OwensBonnie Blair, and Wayne Gretzky. A famous athlete can also influence the image of their home country as do Usain BoltMario Balotelli, or Michelle Kwan.

My Mom and I experienced a more-nuanced form of citizen diplomacy at the first Ski Jumping competition in Park City, Utah. As citizens of the host country for the 2002 Games, we decided to take it upon ourselves to cheer for any international athletes that didn’t seem to have a fan base. Our favorite immediately became the least supported athlete, a Ski-Jumper from Kazakhstan. We yelled our hearts out to cheer him on, not wanting him to feel homesick or unsupported. I will always harbor good feelings for people from Kazakhstan because I recall the bravery that athlete embraced, to show up to compete even though Ski Jumping was a lesser-known sport and his family could not afford to accompany him. This was an athlete that would not be featured on television and would probably not even place within the top ten. His courage reminded me that sport transcends national identities and recalls the common bonds we share as humans.

In Turin, my Dad and I found ourselves with tickets to a Curling match. We had no idea how to cheer for the sport but we decided to attend in an effort to uphold the Olympic Spirit. I still do not know the rules of Curling but we departed with a wonderful notion of how to tell Nordic vs. Scandinavian flags from each other, given to us by acquaintances made in the stands. By the end of the event, we also had the Swedish national anthem, “Du gamla, Du fria”, memorized thanks to our new friends, seven of Sweden’s most passionate Curling fans. For fans of the Olympics, sometimes the Games don’t matter as much as the lasting friendships made and the new knowledge gained.

Flag Country Governance Capital Population
Official Scandinavian countries
demark flag Denmark Kingdom Copenhagen 5,519,287
norway flag Norway Independence 1905 Oslo 4,836,183
sweden flag Sweden Kingdom Stockholm 9,336,487
The additional Nordic nations
finland flag Finland Independence 1917 Helsinki 5,349,829
iceland flag Iceland Independence 1944* Reykjavík 319,756
Nordic autonomous regions
faroe islands flags Faroe Islands Self-governance 1948 Tórshavn 49,006
greenland flag Greenland Self-governance 1979 Nuuk 57,600
åland flag Åland Islands Autonomous province 1920* Mariehamn 27,456

(via Lost in Stockholm)

Regionalism

The Olympics is an event that inspires many individuals to unite in a common quest for excellence in sportmanship and teamwork. One fascinating concept I experienced as a fan and attendee of two games is the emergence of regional identities. The IOC seeks to upholds this element in its mission “to cooperate…in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace.”

via BBC

I will never forget the friendly Canadian I asked for directions in Turin who, when I thanked him, he replied, “always happy to help a fellow North American!” When I would meet a fan from Mexico, I would exclaim, “oh! I’m from California,” because it felt as if I was meeting a long-lost cousin. When you’re across the world from home, at a global event, it’s not uncommon to strike up bonds with your neighbors that you wouldn’t have previously considered in a different context.  As American University Professor Robert Pastor promotes in his book The North American Idea, “transnational problems cannot be solved unilaterally… The opening of each country to each other and the world represents an enhancement of rights not their restriction. Sometimes sovereignty can be defended better by eliminating barriers and not raising them, by working closely with each other not by distancing ourselves” (6-14).

The opportunity that the Olympics presents for regionalism to influence global affairs, and for public diplomacy to promote it should not be taken lightly.

Read Part II of Kelsey’s piece here.

Guest Post: My First Olympic Experience

Here is another guest post! This time by Shaun Bechtold of GuojiSport, who is covering the Olympics live in London. He will be posting daily on his Facebook group page and his personal blog.

The 1988 Olympic Torch

The 1988 Olympic Torch

Here we go again, less than 2 weeks to go before the games, and I once again pack for the long flight across the Atlantic. This is a special games for me on a couple of levels. First with having a national identity, my own flag to wave. The second, this will be my first Olympic jorney as a member of the press.  All in all, my 9th (yes, I have been to 8) Olympic Games. Those are stories in itself, and something for another time, today I give you my first true Olympic experience.

It was February, 1988. A windy, bitter evening in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. A town about a 3 hour drive south of Calgary, the host city of the XV Winter Olympiad. The games were weeks away, as they are now, and the torch was on the final legs of its journey towards “Cowtown” as Calgary is known. This would be the second games Canada would host. The first in Montreal in 1976, the summer games that would prove to be a financial disaster, and embarrassing, as Canada would fail to win gold on home soil.  Would the maple leaf fly high this time?

I’m getting off subject, back to that night. I was 7 years old. My mother told me to get in the car, we were going to see “the torch.” I had no idea what she was talking about. At that age, I was still new to the general realm of sports, let alone the magnitude of the games. We got in the car, and off we went, to the downtown core. We park about 3 blocks from 3rd Avenue South, the street of the relay, and walk in this cold, miserable Canadian weather to an empty street packed 5 deep with people, excited beyond belief.

Why? I had no idea. A load of people lining the street, for a couple hours it seemed. Waiting, waiting. “Mom, what are we waiting for?” I ask. “The torch,” my mom told me. That was all she said.  Not long after, I look East, and I see the crowd start to light. My mom hands me a large white candle with a red cup just under the wick. She lights it. I look up, and see everyone did the same. Candlelit streets as far as I could see.

Then there was noise. Crowds cheering, and it was getting louder. Police sirens, car corns.

Then I see them, a convoy of vehicles, lights flashing, and the crowd going nuts, flag waving, everything.  It was almost a blur. I am trying to take it all in, comprehend what’s going on. Then I look into the street.

There it is. The Olympic Torch. Shaped like the Calgary Tower, and like the candle I was holding. A man was walking with the torch, someone holding each arm. Whoever was carrying the torch was blind. The only visual memory I had after seeing all that was that flame, it looked huge. Immense to my young eyes, and all I could think was, what is this about, and how do I get in on this?

A few days later, I’m in elementary, Grade 2, and the teachers were giving special presentations about what would take place in Calgary. We were given spectator guides & posters (which I still have). That night I remember just sitting in my bedroom staring at this poster, taking everything that happened in the last couple of days. My dad comes into the room and asks me what I think of all this. I tell him I want to know more. He gives me an envelope, and in it: Tickets. Tickets to THE OLYMPIC GAMES.

Even though they were another Canadian embarrassment, no Gold, there were still stories. Elizabeth Manley and her surprise silver in Figure Skating. Matti Nykanen winning 3 gold in Ski Jumping.  Alberto Tomba tearing the ski hills. Brian Boitano & Brian Orser dueling on skates. A ski jumper sent into a camera tower when chinook winds blew through the city, almost cancelling events with the weather.  Hockey, and Canada’ national passion was taking over people’s lives. Curling, Freestlye Skiing, & Short Track speed Skiing were demonstration events.

All that, and for the first time I could say, “I was there.” The people I met, the things I saw, the memories.  I even caught a puck at a hockey game, still got that too. It’s amazing what not just the Olympics, but sports in general do to people. These games would have a profound impact on my life to come, and I’ll tell you more in my next piece.