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Three simple steps to help Brum keep the Olympic flame alive

Three simple steps to help Brum keep the Olympic flame alive

🕔21.Aug 2012
via marcreeves

Ever since the flame was doused, almost every commentator and politician has been wondering how to bottle and build on the success of London 2012.

It’s worth suggesting at the outset the principal reasons for the success of the 30th Olympiad. In three words: organisation, spirit and performance.

Locog and host of others – from Governments to volunteers – delivered on their planning and execution. The Olympic spirit was there at every turn, from Games Makers to athletes, commentators to spectators. It was all topped off by the success of Team GB.

Many were cynical approaching 27th July. I honestly wasn’t one of them, although the G4S episode was clearly a disaster waiting to happen and ticketing was difficult. I had been far more pessimistic about the bid until the moment “London!” slowly emerged from an envelope in Singapore. Seb Coe and his team – as well as the ODA – deserve every medal going.

Most politicians were sensible enough not to try and climb aboard the Olympic train, with the obvious exception of Mayor Boris who defies all political logic. However, I happened to think the PM struggled to capture and adequately reflect the public mood. He is a very able communicator on the whole, but somehow his ability to speak for a nation remains less natural and effective than Blair at his height.

David Richardson, Lloyds Banking Group’s regional managing director, believes Birmingham gave the greatest “contribution towards the Olympic movement” outside London. Above all else of course it was the unprompted, natural and powerful post race comments of Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. As I tweeted at the time:

Bore/Rami – #Bolt has just given you the only soundbite you will ever need

On social media, this soon turned into #BigUpBirmingham. It would be difficult not to successfully exploit such a goldmine, although I notice former BYPY Stef Lewandowski doesn’t make much of Marketing Birmingham’s efforts!

Snatching fail from the jaws of win: Usain namedrops Brum with much love. We reply with this bullshit….

So, for Birmingham politicians and policy makers, what is there to bottle and build? Well, sport, culture and tourism provide the obvious starting points. Sporting facilities (as well as coaching) are vital to grassroots and elite success. I know that Councillor Bore is particularly keen for Birmingham to be in the business of staging World Championships again. Birmingham’s half marathon will be followed in October by a Sports Summit hosted by the Council Leader.

In culture, the region had a major part to play in the Cultural Olympiad with events such as Birmingham Hippodrome’s The Voyage with still more to come, including Birmingham REP’s Forests. However, culture is under the cosh with a very gloomy funding outlook. Bore is staging a Culture Summit just before the Great Birmingham Run to refresh the city’s cultural strategy.

Marketing Birmingham last week welcomed Jeremy Hunt’s post Olympic tourism campaign. Neil Rami’s operation wants to build on the success of the Birmingham visitor economy, in particular its increasing attraction to China. Last year, the city attracted an additional 740,000 visitors according to Global Tourism Solutions. The overall value of the city’s visitor economy is now £4.9bn.

So, returning to those three attributes that made London 2012 so great, how might they apply to Birmingham 2012 and beyond?

Organisation – The failure of domes and stadia and overruns on major projects had somehow made us – and foreign audiences – think we were incapable of doing “big things” and that a once mighty nation at the heart of an empire had lost all self-belief. For local as well as national government, now is the time to think big again. The new Library of Birmingham, New Street Gateway and the airport runway extension are obvious examples of big infrastructure happening now. But, what next? I don’t necessarily mean shiny new buildings. What about the organisation of our education and skills system, for example? How do we tackle endemic deprivation and worklessness in some areas? How do we make Birmingham more attractive to do business in? How do we move around the city once delivered by air or rail?

Spirit – The Olympics made us feel like a unified nation again, comfortable with our identity. That is, apart from Aidan Burley MP. For over two weeks, the nation (notably the media) suspended its usual cynicism and irony. These qualities – and our sense of humour more generally – are part of our psyche and, to a large part, make our media effective. But this outlook can be debilitating at times.

Whether it was in the friendly welcome offered by people not being paid or the sheer delight of a nation roaring on a British Somali, this was Great Britain. Could Birmingham now make a better fist than central government of “The Big Society” and “multiculturalism” as it harnesses the richness of its diverse communities and an empowered civil society alongside strong private and public sectors?

Performance – TeamGB’s success seems to be based on four key factors: talent (naturally), funding (government, lottery and sponsors), world class leadership, coaching and facilities and finally hard work and commitment. The message of this team and these Games was best summed up by Mo Farah: “It’s just hard work and grafting.”

It might be argued “Team Birmingham” has many of those ingredients. Yes, there are problems in funding of course and productivity is weak in some areas. The talent is certainly there. But, for too long we have lacked in the area of leadership.

In his speech at the Opening Ceremony, Lord Coe said “this is our time.” Now, it’s the time for a relatively new council administration, a LEP still finding its feet and a business community to step up and show some of the same qualities that made London 2012.

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