Challenges and opportunities for the Olympic Movement : Balancing the Games lived festival experience and its global media projection

Garcia, Beatriz

After more than one century, the Olympic Games, the most visible dimension of the Olympic Movement, remains the world largest sports mega-event and attracts the largest amount of simultaneous media coverage globally. However, beyond a sports event, the Olympic Games is also a cultural phenomenon that can have considerable influence over local, national and international cultural policy. This cultural dimension tends to be represented by the media via popular ceremonial events, such as the Olympic torch relay that precedes the start of the Games, and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Beyond these highly recognized aspects, the Games also incorporates a cultural and arts programme that is playing a growing role defining or contributing to respective Olympic host cities’ cultural policies, the production of local symbols and the reinforcement of cultural values. Since Barcelona 1992, this programme has become officially characterized as a four-year Cultural Olympiad. However, the Cultural Olympiad has failed to attract significant media attention to date and has remained one of the least visible and most misunderstood aspects of the Olympic experience. This paper reviews the functions and position of two opposite sides in the spectrum of Olympic cultural value production: a) the Opening and Closing ceremonies and b) the Cultural Olympiad and outlines related challenges for their future development. The ceremonies are clearly the most globally symbolic moment for Olympic cultural representation but this moment is produced and consumed mainly as a broadcast phenomenon. In contrast, the Cultural Olympiad caters almost exclusively to the local population (before Games time) and the live Olympic audience (during Games time), while remaining nearly invisible to the global media and its remote audience. As I will describe, these circumstances are not inherent to the types of activities that they entail, but there are organizational limitations that restrict the presence of the Cultural Olympiad from an Olympic branding and media point of view. To this extent, a fundamental challenge for the diverse cultural dimensions of the Games to become more visible and central to the ‘Olympic experience’ involves coming to terms with the complex organizational structure of the Olympic programme at large and how that interfaces with the media agenda that exists around the 16 days of elite sport competition. Further, I will argue, a greater centrality for the Cultural Olympiad is an important aspiration in order to protect the ever diminishing opportunities to experience the Games as a lived festival, strongly connected and accessible to people in their local environment, as opposed to the dominant experience of the Games as a global media event, only accessible via broadcast feeds or virtual online environments.

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