Monday, 2 May 2011

Review of Report: “Foreign and Commonwealth Office Public Diplomacy: The Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012”


This report describes and analyses the proposals by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for the Olympics games and what gains they will bring to the UK in terms of public diplomacy.

The report has three chapters: chapter one is the introduction which outlines the event which is under scrutiny and the areas that have been considered during the report. Chapter two considers public diplomacy in the UK by looking at the current international reputation of the country, the impact of nation branding and the impact that the Olympics has had on other nations that have hosted it. Chapter three considers the FCO’s strategy for the 2012 Olympics, how these strategies will impact on the UK in terms of public diplomacy and how they will be put into place.

Analysis and opinion

The report produces a number of clear conclusions which are the basis for the strategies suggested for using the games for public diplomacy benefits. The report suggests that the government should give urgent thought to holding a trade event prior to or during the event. The report produces no evidence that suggests that this would be financially beneficial and also there is no evidence that any of the other recent hosts held such an event. It seems that the UK would be better to spend their resources, which the report itself notes may be stretched given the recent budget cuts, ensuring that the main aspects of the games themselves are a success because it will be this that the rest of the world will see first and foremost.

The report concludes that the current message portrayed by the FCO in relation to the Olympics is ‘bland and ill defined’ (p.22) and that the FCO should focus on the idea that the UK is ‘generous’ (p.22) as this would help to ‘redress some of the long-standing misconceptions of the UK’ (p.22). Earlier in the report Simon Anholt is quoted who identifies the negative images of the UK as being ‘arrogant, stuffy, old-fashioned and cold’ (p.12). While I do not dispute that it is better to have one overall goal in terms of image that should be the focus of the games, I am a little sceptical that defining the UK as ‘generous’ and promoting this idea will be a suitable tactic in order to overcome the negative images associated with the UK that Anholt identified earlier.

The report also urges that the FCO should be prepared to act if there are negative stories that appear in the media in relation to the UK during the games. It is clear that the games, while offering a chance to enhance the country’s reputation, can also do damage to it if certain aspects of public diplomacy and the media are not handled appropriately. It seems sensible and a reasonable conclusion that the FCO should prepare for the negative stories and how they would be addressed.

The report also recommends that the FCO prepare some form of back up plan involving central financial funding if there are cuts to the Olympic’s public diplomacy work. I feel that this is a solid recommendation as the UK has invested a lot of money in the Olympics and pulling out financial support for certain areas at this stage would no doubt undermine some of the work and positive benefits that were highlighted to the Government when the decision was made to make a bid for the Olympic games.

A further recommendation is that the games should be promoted as an event hosted by the entire UK rather that the only as the London Games. While the logic behind this is evident; the entire country should benefit from this where possible, the practicality of this suggestion is questionable. The games are marketed as one city; the city is the one that bids for the games, and that is how they are known in the international community. Additionally, the majority of the investment (the new Olympic site etc) is in London in relation to the games. Indeed the only events that I can find that are hosted outside of London are some elements of football, sailing, rowing and kayak events. With over 85% of the events, and therefore 85% of the attraction held in London, promoting the games as UK wide will be difficult. Having said that, from a public diplomacy point of view, the success of the Olympic games will be likely to have an impact on the image of the UK as a whole rather than just London as there are few who would separate London and the rest of the UK when considering their opinions of the country.

In summary, the report itself is well written and appears to have been thoroughly researched as there is significant evidence provided for some of the key assertions and strategy recommendations that are put forward. However the report should be viewed from the perspective of a public diplomacy approach because otherwise it may appear that the report is focusing on using the Olympics as a marketing or public relations tool at the expense of all other aspects of the games.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Betina,
    you chose a very interesting topic for your reoport. I think that the British government will have some serious problems in enhancing the image of London, and even more of the UK in general, for two reasons. Firstly it seems to me that the country is facing a massive image predicament due to the budget cuts. In fact the UK was seen as a country of opportunities, and the fact that has shrank the budget cutting for instance on the education system, is having a negative impact on its image. Secondly, the UK will have enormous problem given the fact that the last Olymipc Games were the beijin magnum opus, against which the UK cannot compete. Everyone will remember how magnificent and spectacular were the last Games, and drawing from the comparison, the UK will seem unfit or in deficit.