With the Olympic games just a few short months away and the IOC appearing more than satisfied with LOCOG’s ability to organise and deliver a successful games, it falls to the more trivial aspects of the event to provoke the latest cries of outrage from the British public.
I should point out now that I am a huge fan of the Olympics, I’m very pleased they’re in Britain in my lifetime and I want them to be a huge success. However I can’t help but feel that the organisers have shot themselves in the foot over some of the more high-profile decisions they have taken.
These are the decisions about things that really aren’t fundamental to the smooth running of the games, nonetheless are the decisions that the Great British public have had the most emotional response to.
How the athletes get to and from their events, the safety of the event, the funding of the games and the way the paying public are treated in the venues; these are just some of the crucially important factors in whether the games are deemed a success or not, however they are currently intangible, either that or the public can’t voice an opinion on them because they haven’t happened yet.
The more trivial aspects where organisers have dropped the ball are more how the games have been represented to the world, the more overtly visual signs of Britishness that in essence aren’t really that important, but still matter hugely to the public. The Olympic logo, the design of the Olympic torch, the mascots, the signature scarf and the launch of the Team GB official kit. These are the things that draw the most vocal opinion as they are accessible to everyone, they are supposed to be demonstrations of the best of British and therefore face criticism if they are perceived to be wrong in any way.
Just in case anyone hasn’t kept abreast of some of the more high-profile launches, I’ll go through some of my misgivings about them:
I’m not one of those that feel it’s an affront to the nation, but it really isn’t evident what it’s trying to represent at 1st glance – surely the primary job of a logo? Admittedly it looks better in its Union flag guise but it still doesn’t scream Olympics to me, or Britain, or even 2012 until further inspection. A case of over design if ever there was one.
The logo of the British Olympic Association (BOA) is a lion, the logo of Team GB is a lion, the mascot of Team GB is a lion, the combined British and Irish rugby team are called the Lions, the England football logo is three lions, the ECB logo is three lions, I see a theme developing here. Why not just make it a lion?
There is no need to conjure up two alien looking beings with politically correct back stories as mascots when 99.9% of people would have been happy with a furry lion. Berlino the bear showed at the 2009 World Athletics Championships that it doesn’t matter if a mascot appears a bit old-fashioned or boring, as long as it’s fun and people can identify with it.
The Olympic torch
I’m actually a fan of the torch and how it looks, but purely that – how it looks. I can’t say I’m bothered that it has 8000 holes in it to represent the 8000 people that will carry it, and I’d take a guess that even the people carrying it don’t care too much either. Unless each individual hole was identifiable to a specific person then I think they’re fairly meaningless, the feeling each person gets from running with the torch will come from its history and what it symbolises, not a hole.
I feel I can actually talk with some authority on this matter. I was very proud to be selected to run with the ‘baton’ in the build up to the 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester. It didn’t particularly matter to me what it looked like, what mattered was that it would eventually be handed to the queen at the opening ceremony of a global sporting competition.
The signature scarf
Many of you may not have even heard of this yet, but it is hoped that this ‘scarf’ will be the iconic bit of merchandising that people remember about the games. The idea comes from the Vancouver winter games in 2010 and the red mittens that were omnipresent at those games. They worked because they were simple, red with a white maple leaf – you don’t get more ‘Canada’ than that really. They were mittens as well, they had one purpose that surprisingly enough was rather beneficial in a cold climate – as a result they were everywhere.
This ‘scarf’ is actually a square of fabric more reminiscent of a tea towel than a scarf. It is marketed as having countless uses, meaning it won’t be as noticeable as the red mittens because it will look different on everyone, and in most cases you won’t even be able to tell that it is in fact the scarf. There are also two designs, again defeating the object of the item being iconic.
- 900 figures to represent the 900 athletes of ‘Our Greatest Team’
- 14 Paralympic Lions to remind us we’re also celebrating and supporting the 14th Paralympic Games this year
- The 26 Olympic sports are all represented
- A hand painted Lion which is a visual reflection of a quote that describes the sheer courage, talent and determination of our Great British Athletes
- 60 hands to symbolise the athletes’ sixty million supporters and the map of Great Britain
All of which mean the design has again been over thought, and to my eye at least isn’t particularly iconic. The key thing about the Canadian mittens was that they were instantly recognisable because they were so simple, that just isn’t the case for these scarfs.
The most telling criticism I can aim at the scarfs is that for something that is supposed to be everywhere at the games, so few people have heard about them so far, let alone bought one.
The Team GB kit
The latest and most high-profile of the blunders comes in the form of the kit our sportspeople will be wearing come the games. Stella McCartney was brought in to design the entire range, from competition apparel, to the podium track suit, to the village wear. She apparently wanted to “deconstruct the Union flag” and then “put it back together, but not in an obvious way”. Well she certainly succeeded in that, as it’s really not very obvious to have the Union flag without any red in it.
Once again I’m not outraged at the design, I’m just a bit ambivalent, the design has grown on me in the ten or so days since it was launched but I won’t ever feel about it the way I did about the Beijing kit. The 2008 vintage was very clean, very uncluttered and appealing to a wide demographic.
People have made the point that there is a distinct lack of red in the new kit, McCartney has hit back though, claiming that there is in fact more red in this kit than there has been in any kit since the 1984 games. She may have a point, there really isn’t much red in the 2008 kit for example, the point maybe isn’t the complete lack of red though, it’s the lack of red from a specific part of the kit.
Looking through the archives of GB Olympic kit suggests that the Union flag has never been particularly prominent, and as far as I can remember no-one has really complained too much. So when you do choose to include the flag, why choose to omit one of the colours and add in a brand new shade of blue?
Another claim of the design this year was that Team GB would feel more like a team because of the kit. Now I may be wrong, but it seems to me that there is more variation between the kits of varying sports in 2012 than there was in the 2008 range.
My view on the design may seem very simplistic but I believe it is one that most people will agree with: make it red, white and blue, keep it simple and make it look good. You don’t have to ‘deconstruct’ anything, you don’t have to represent everyone with your design, it simply has to look good. If you have to be a bit conservative in your design to please the masses then who cares, if the masses are pleased then you’ve done your job.
As I’ve said, these things don’t really matter, but if the organisers want to be given a bit of leeway should anything vital not be quite up to scratch, then getting the superficial things right is a good place to start. Why then did they feel the need to over design everything? We as a nation aren’t known for our openness to radical change and new design, so for things that everyone will have an opinion on there is no harm in going for mass appeal.
I don’t understand the need to for all aspects of modern Britain to feel represented by a logo, or for a scarf to take inspiration from every single athlete participating. Surely if people like the design and feel proud of it then they will naturally develop a sense of ownership? There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
I appreciate that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and in many cases it’s important not to go with the mass opinion and stick to your guns, I don’t believe this to be one of those times though. Surely there were other designs put forward for these items that maybe weren’t as avant-garde or politically correct, but would have the popular vote and got everyone on the organiser’s side?
One final thought – I found it saddening that because the Team GB kit is produced by Adidas, there were no high-profile Nike sponsored GB athletes at the kit launch. Jess Ennis, Phillips Idowu, Chris Hoy and Andy Murray are all big cash cows for Adidas so they were the ones featured in the kit. What about Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe, Mark Cavendish and Dai Greene though? All Nike sponsored and conspicuous in their absence from any promotional material. If they really are one big team then why not act like it?