Go and shout at a tennis player

I’ve been watching the Olympics. Have you? It’s very good, isn’t it? So far I’ve seen shooting, judo, cycling, archery, tennis, diving, and gymnastics. It’ll be even better when the track and field events get underway.

While I was watching the gymnastics one evening I had a bit of an epiphany.

Lauren Mitchell, 41st AG World Championship, 2009
Lauren Mitchell, 41st AG World Championship, 2009. Copyright Steven Rasmussen, Creative Commons.

The beam … what a terrifying piece of equipment that is. It’s 1.25m (just over 4ft) off the floor, and it’s only 10cm wide (4in). And have you seen the stuff the gymnasts do on the beam..? Jumps, handstands, somersaults (forward and back), and more besides.

The thing about gymnastics finals is that all the exercises take place simultaneously, so while watching someone do something on a 10cm beam that most of couldn’t do on terra firma without injuring ourselves irreparably, in the background I could see other gymnasts sprinting down the approach to the vault and throwing themselves up and over it. And the whole time the crowd of many hundreds of people – maybe thousands – were clapping, cheering, yelling, stamping their feet and carrying on.

At times the noise was incredible. Did it put any of the gymnasts off? It didn’t seem to, no.

Compare that with what goes on at a tennis match. If you’re in the crowd at Wimbledon you can’t even speak when play is taking place, never mind yell, scream and shout.

If a gymnast can pirouette, somersault backwards and land perfectly on a high beam which is only marginally wider than the average human hand, while an enormous crowd is making as much noise as it can, why can’t a tennis player hit a ball with a racquet if there’s even the merest hint of a racket?

FOOTNOTE: I don’t have a problem with tennis players, just with prissiness. I watched the Johanna Konta / Svetlana Kuznetsova match a few days ago and was gripped. I don’t think it should be in the Olympics though. Tennis players are professionals – they get paid for playing tennis. That strikes me as contrary to the whole Olympic ethos. I felt the same way when the US started filing the US national basketball team with pro players; it’s tantamount to cheating. The same applies to golf. Although I’m not convinced golf is a sport in the true sense of the word. And as for sailing… don’t get me started on sailing. Sailing isn’t a sport. It’s an activity, a pastime. I’m not against sailing. I just don’t think it’s an Olympic sport.

Why the UK health service is not America’s concern

Following the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, the world’s media was awash with reaction and opinion. Not all of it glowing. A fair few overseas commentators seemed to find the NHS section of the evening somewhat troubling.

For those that don’t know, the NHS is our National Health Service, set up in the wake of WWII, state-owned and funded by taxes.
Many US Republicans (and some Democrats too) point at our NHS when arguing against many of President Obama’s planned health reforms. A lot of what I read today was woefully inaccurate at best, and rantingly offensive at worst.
Our health service *is* free at the point of delivery. There is no ‘gaming’ it. We do have a private health sector, which is thriving. So, if you have the money you can choose to pay rather than use the NHS. You get treated by the same doctors, sometimes in the same hospitals. But you get treated sooner.
All emergency treatment is via the NHS – from heart attacks through to car accidents, shootings, stabbings etc.
The use by people in the US of the term “socialized” health care means nothing to us. That simply is not what it is, not what it feels like.  It is a hollow ideologue’s term to defend their distaste for providing health care for all members of society.
It is my belief that the true test of a society is how it regards the less fortunate and those in need of help. But I keep that opinion to myself. I would never stoop so low as to lecture people in the US, for example, on what their health system lacks – because I don’t live there.
The UK’s NHS is far from perfect. The waiting lists are too long. There is too much emphasis on measuring the wrong aspects of patient treatment and not enough on actual patient care. Some hospital governing bodies (it’s done regionally) have run out of money. The quality of care you get is often due to how much the people you are treated by actually care about what they are doing.
My father died in early 2011 and was treated very badly in hospital during the last week of his life. My mother’s cancer wasn’t diagnosed, despite many warning signs, until it had advanced to the point where it was declared inoperable. My oldest son was left with a ruptured appendix for almost two weeks before one particular doctor realised what was going on – he dodged a one-in-a-thousand bullet.
Most people in the UK know someone that’s had a bad experience at the hands of the NHS.
Most of us also know someone who received life-saving treatment, or life-changing care at the hands of the NHS.
It’s always fascinating to read what people overseas think of our country. But, mostly, you are all speaking from positions of varying ignorance. The opinions I value most are from those who caveat their comments by declaring themselves onlookers, not behaving like experts.

What the Olympic sponsors could learn from Beckham and Adidas

Adidas pulled off a fantastic PR stunt yesterday at the Westfield Stratford shopping centre (that’s ‘mall’ to my colonial friends).
They installed a photobooth and encouraged people to step inside, whereupon… from the O to the M to golden-balls G – there’s David Beckham waiting for them.
Brilliant work. Inspired. You want warm and fuzzy brand association – there you are. You want to be seen as well connected – help yourself. You want people to think your brand is cool – you got it.
So how come the other big ticket sponsor brands haven’t also done something interesting, different, entertaining..?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not for one minute suggesting that anyone in their right mind would want to see Ronald McDonald emerging from the darkness and coming toward them, least of all while they’re in a confined space.
Yet, unless I’ve missed something, there appears to be a dearth of other Olympi-brands dusting off their creative mojos and winning the hearts and minds of the public.
There’s really no excuse in 2012 – it would be as cheap as chips (which you can only buy from McDonalds, unless they are served with fish as part of an authentic fish ‘n’ chips experience) to knock out a whole rash of Facebook competitions and games, or do some cool London stuff via Foursquare, maybe linked to previous London Olympics.  Plus all the big brands have so much corporate sponsorship going on that they have more than enough potential strings to pull for a spot of A-list celebrity endorsement action.
Something. Anything. Anyone..?
It really wouldn’t be hard for these big brands to create campaigns or one-off stunts that demonstrate they’ve actually been listening to their customers through all the Facebook groups etc they have.
It makes me wonder what the point of it all is (having a brand presence on Facebook, I mean) if you can’t then take everything you’ve learned about interacting with your customers via a meaningful two-way dialogue and put it to good use throughout all your PR, advertising, marketing and comms activities.

I think that might be worth setting aside for another post.

Footnote: list of the London 2012 Olympic sponsors, partners and supporters here.

A torch, a procession and a glimmer of excitement

If you follow me on twitter you may have seen me occasionally expressing disappointment in the way certain aspects of the London Olympics are being handled.

Mostly, I find it distasteful that the corporate sponsors of the event have such a stranglehold on things. From the removal of beverages that aren’t owned by Coca-Cola from swathes of London while the games take place, to the last minute decision to re-route the torch procession to avoid St James’s Park (the football ground in Newcastle upon Tyne) because there were advertising boards bearing the names and logos of businesses that weren’t official Olympic sponsors.

There are restrictions in place regarding non-sponsors being able to advertise on billboards during the games that mean LOCOG (the committee in charge of organising the London games) has had to buy up loads of advertising space in order to control what appears. I have no idea how much that has cost, nor how that is funded, but surely even the most ardent fan of the Olympics can’t possibly think that is a right and proper way for things to be done.

The torch itself doesn’t exactly sit well with me either.

When did the torch first become part of the Olympic paraphernalia…?

At the Berlin games of 1936. Yes, that’s right the year Hitler tried to use the Olympics as a massive Nazi propaganda vehicle. The torch fitted in with the love of ceremony the Third Reich’s architects had.

I remember the Olympics as an exciting sporting spectacle that had us all glued to our TVs when I was a boy. Sporting excellence was all that seemed to matter. It doesn’t feel like that any more.

Athletes are no longer the plucky amateurs they once were, either. And is it me, or are police officers starting to look younger these days..?

The sight of the Olympic torch being borne around the UK (and, bizarrely, Ireland too – it’s a different country) by a cross section of the population, or wounded service personnel, or ordinary people who have done extraordinary things, is one thing. But when celebrities started getting involved, the whole thing started to look like a circus.

In a couple of days’ time, the Olympic torch passes close to my house. My youngest son, having been learning about the Olympics at school recently, is very excited and wants to see it.

So I’ll take him.

And I’ll hope that some of the wonder and excitement rubs off on me too. Because, for all that I think the excesses of commercialisation have tainted the Olympics, well… it’s still the Olympics, right?