Getting Lost in London

One thing the LOCOG assured visitors of during the Games was that they would not get lost. The inevitability of this happening is based on entrance to a foreign country and the confusing differences between the UK and the US (where are the street signs? why aren’t the crosswalks at the ends of the roads? why is everyone going the wrong way?).

It’s actually pretty easy to find lost people.

See?

But basic construction of the city has made it friendlier, because you don’t have to ask for directions. Except for maybe these call centers in the Tube.

You press a button and a British voice comes out!

By putting up signs, directions, and posts that say “you are here,” being lost is not seen as a cause for alarm and embarrassment.

Signs like this were all over central London

Close-up at Baker Street

Since I took the Tube, I noticed the use of the LOCOG’s particular shade of pink to point out Olympic stadium locations.

Can you see the pink?

It was at a point that no one could get to Olympic Park without being blind.

Pink sign!

People in the UK don’t get off the train, they ALIGHT.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with asking for directions, and actually, the people I asked for directions were very nice, especially the volunteers. Though I can understand why people were apprehensive to ask Londoners, considering how much traffic the Olympics was supposed to bring in.

Signs like this weren’t as helpful.

However, the volunteers were also great help too. Especially after they did this to the signs.

Sign Castle!

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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.