With the closing of the 2012 Olympics in London the “Greatest Show on Earth” has ended. It has been an amazing two weeks of sport, particularly for those of us who live in the host nation and have seen another side to our country.
These were the “Happy Games”; in fact, to borrow a couple of adjectives from the British national anthem, “Happy and Glorious” would be the best way to sum up the London 2012 games.
So what can Formula 1 learn from the last two weeks? Is there anything that could be adopted to make F1 better, any methodologies which would suit our very own ‘world class’ sporting event?
These last two weeks were all about sport, we must never forget that and the way these games were organised and presented, ‘sport’ was at the heart of everything. Yes many of the competitors were professionals earning millions back home in their professional leagues and series, but in these Olympics the cynical and the mercenary were put to one side in pursuit of pure sporting excellence.
However there is a balance to be struck and London 2012 struck it perfectly; for all the spirit of “togetherness” and the heart warming enthusiasm of the competitors, fans and volunteers, winning was still very much at the heart of it.
The coveted gold medal at the end of four years of hard training is what all the serious athletes were in London to achieve. The public naturally looks to the medals table to see who is doing the best and where their country stands.
So winning is the main thing, but it’s not everything.
No-one is naive enough to think that the Olympic motto, “it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part” covers anything more than the few heart warming stories of fighting through adversity, overcoming racial or gender barriers to compete and simply to be there.
But the Olympics has shown that it is possible to compete at the highest level and engage the public in the process. London’s triumph was the way the fans were drawn in, right from the start with the wacky opening ceremony to the very end with the final medals to be handed out.
Sport was both the spectacle and the end in itself; human beings pushing themselves to do amazing things in the name of competition. But as they did so they dragged along thousands in the stadiums and millions around the world to share in their experience and that was the lesson F1 can learn from the games.
Our sport is the world’s largest year-round sporting event, it has huge and passionate global fan base; so on the one hand, it is hard to engender such enthusiasm week in and week out, compared to an event which happens only once every four years.
But on the other hand, the way the sport takes fans’ money without giving much back, the way F1 has gone racing in new countries without trying to build a lasting legacy, shows how much there is to do in engaging with fans and building F1’s following into new generations and new markets.
F1 takes its races into new territories, like Asia and Middle East, primarily because they pay the highest sanctioning fees. This is spelled out very clearly in F1’s flotation prospectus.
Yes the sport needs to embrace emerging markets for many reasons; to offer new opportunities for manufacturers and sponsors and to “inspire a generation” of youngsters in that country to race, so one day one of them may become their country’s first F1 champion.
But the way we go about starting up in a new country is often too cynical; Country X will pay the most so we’ll race there, end of. When they run out of money, move on to the next place with deep pockets.
F1 can learn from the London Olympics first by evaluating carefully what a new host country can bring to the sport besides money. Then in engaging the local people, thinking about the legacy it is building in a country, working closely with the organisers on long term projects, focussing on building a following, rather than simply pocketing the cash and moving on to the next showground.
In terms of other lessons, Bernie Ecclestone was impressed by a visit to the Beijing Games in 2008 and felt that the idea of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals was something F1 could take from the Olympics. He was unable to garner enough support from within the sport so it has not happened and I don’t think it’s any more likely today. Medals work brilliantly for the Olympics, but F1 has a perfectly good podium ceremony and big trophies and champagne spraying are the heart of that.
In terms of hosting the event, the 2012 Olympics has proved that Britain can put on a world class event with no problems – there was anxiety about whether the UK could pull it off after the bid was won and especially after organisers saw what Beijing laid on. Visitors to the events were treated to the best of British professionalism and enthusiasm. That mix is often hard to strike.
F1 is organised with great professionalism, especially when you see the inner workings of FOM, as some of us on the inside are lucky to see. But again, the enthusiasm of the volunteers and the security staff at London 2012 is in sharp contrast to what we experience at a lot of F1 venues, like Spa, where black-shirted heavies present a cold and menacing front, rather than enthusiastic and welcoming.
As for the idea of motorsport having any kind of place in the Olympics, I don’t think there’s any chance, nor is there any point. Mechanised sports have no place in the Olympic games. Powerboating was once an Olympic sport but was dropped and rightly so.
F1 has many things going for it, but the Olympics has shown it could do a lot of things better.