At last week’s International Olympic Committee meetings in Guatemala Jean Claude Killy, who still holds the unofficial title of greatest ski racer of all time, presented the final report of the IOC’s Coordination Commission on the Torino Olympics. In the report the commission, which Killy chaired, raises a number of concerns about the 2006 Games and calls for more active management of the Olympic brand and its values by the IOC.
The report is interesting reading. It points out how the Olympics are facing increasing competition from other events, how interest in the Olympics among young people is waning, and it identifies specific flaws in the Torino Games.
It also outlines steps — in some instances aggressive steps — that the IOC should take to improve the media perception of the Olympics and the experience of Olympic “clients”.
The report states: “In substance, we believe that improving the Games requires us to work on the Olympic experience, the management of Games organization and the enhancement of the value of the Olympic Games product.”
The report doesn’t talk much about the host communities, their needs and their experiences with the Games, other than to say “…it is important to leave behind a lasting legacy for the host community.” That’s because it’s an IOC report. The host communities are partners with the IOC and the organizing committee in putting on the Olympics, but it’s up to the host communities to figure out what they want from the experience.
The IOC, clearly, has decided what it wants from each Games.
Some of the lessons to be learned from Torino are relevant to Whistler, in particular the success of the medals plaza.
“The Olympic experience is a difficult concept to explain, but… people’s expectations extend beyond sport alone,” the report states.
“Olympic Games participants are looking for an intense, different kind of experience, which combines practical elements such as the sports competitions themselves and other, more intangible aspects such as a warm atmosphere or cultural exchanges. It is these elements that distinguish the Olympic Games from other elements.
“In Turin, we witnessed some great moments at the venues, but the activities in the city, particularly in the medals plaza, gave the event an extra ‘Olympic touch’.”
All the medals at last year’s Olympics were presented in Torino’s Piazza Castello, a centuries-old square in the city that brought people together every evening for videos, concerts and laser light shows, as well as the medals presentations. Those who couldn’t squeeze into Piazza Castello could watch the festivities on giant video screens in nearby piazzas.
There is no way the antiseptic B.C. Place Stadium, where the medals for the Vancouver events will be presented, can compete with Piazza Castello. But the medals plaza to be built on Lots 1 and 9 in Whistler is another story. Whistler’s medal plaza in 2010 may be only months old, rather than centuries, but it can be the hub for all the mountain events and may become the face of Whistler to the world.
Killy’s report recommends that all future Winter Olympics have an urban medals plaza and a mountain medals plaza.
The report also discusses the Cultural Olympiad including “urban activities, street entertainment that simultaneously combines athletic and cultural performances.
“This urban culture should also be fostered through the creation of large areas where spectators unable to obtain tickets for the competitions can gather in order to experience the Games on the streets.
“In Turin, the organizers did not completely grasp what was expected of them and what services they needed to provide. If the participants are to experience great moments, this understanding is indispensable. A ‘client’ culture will therefore need to be adopted by the (organizing committees) and, to a certain extent, by the IOC.
“We will need to work with all categories of participants in order to better understand their expectations and actively guide the organizers in the right direction.”
Again, the IOC seems to have a very clear idea of what it wants from the Cultural Olympiad and Olympic organizers. And in many instances the host community’s interests will parallel those of the IOC and the organizing committee.
But the host community should be more than just a stage supporting the Olympic set and its actors. There is an opportunity for the host community to infuse its personality into the Olympics and make the Games much more than a collection of high profile athletic events. Whistler can do this — if, like the IOC, it knows exactly what it wants from the Olympics.