London is the only host nation in the world to have staged the Olympic Games on more than two occasions, in 1908, 1948 and most recently in 2012. This surpasses the home of the Olympics (Athens) after the inaugural event took place in 1896. However, whilst there may be many integral parts that remain the same over more than a century, other worldwide issues have been resolved and adapted over the years.
Financial gains and losses have always been perceived as a contentious subject when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) make their decision on the host nation of the biggest global event every four years. The economic climate was a huge challenge in both 1948 and 2012, but for entirely different reasons. The Austerity Games (as they were known in 1948) was an unprecedented success, despite Britain and the IOC doubting their ability to create such a prolific event in such a small timeframe.
The games were announced in August 1945, to be held just three years after World War Two (WW2), and a chance to unite countries. Britain’s major problem was that because of the war, the country was bankrupt and had no way of supporting the athletes and creating new infrastructures to compete in. The IOC used Empire Stadium rent-free and had the services of the permanent members of staff to cut down on costs.
However, in 1947, concerns were brought up as London’s financial difficulties made holding the games seemingly impossible; but it was too late to withdraw the bid, leaving the question as to whether the use of vital materials (such as steel and coal) could be justified for an event that wasn’t essential -sport was seen as a frivolous event, not the competitive nature it holds now. – London’s saviour was that the games brought in £1 million to balance the books of the country’s debts.
Whereas, 2012 had the double-dip recession to contend with. Just months before the Olympics were due to be held, figures were released in newspapers, proving that Britain’s economy was the slowest to recover in more than 100 years, making it worse than the Great Depression in the 1930’s. This left questions on whether the British economy was financially stable enough to hold the games, drawing similarities with 1948, but in different circumstances.
The final cost of staging the biggest global event in London was £9.3 billion in total, however, unlike 1948, the IOC had to build the Olympic Park, Stadium and venues for competitors and their coaches. Whereas, the Austerity games utilized what already existed from before the war; the 26 year old Empire Stadium at Wembley. This created a myriad of issues though.
For instance, the stadium didn’t belong to a governing body, so it had to be leased out to the British Olympic Committee for the duration of the games. Accomodation for the athletes, coaches and spectators was another contentious problem. Schools local to the area became home for three weeks for some competitors, RAF bases were also offered to people needing somewhere to stay, and families who lived close to Wembley offered to take athletes from other countries into their homes, providing shelter to people who may not have spoken the same language. The volunteers were crucial in getting the 1948 Olympics to go ahead without a hitch, whether it may be the people offering their homes, to the stewards chaperoning the events.
The same can also be said in 2012, as the London Organising Committee received over 240,000 applicants willing to donate their time for the worthy, once in a lifetime cause. More than 70,000 volunteers (games makers) helped to make the games run so smoothly, and in both 1948 and 2012, the volunteers are one of the main reasons as to why the events were so successful.
Political stances between the two Olympics couldn’t have differed more. The Attlee government in 1948 didn’t see the games, or sport in general, as a necessity and therefore, not high on their list of priorities after the war. For example, at the time, a Sports Minister didn’t exist in government and hence, the Labour Prime Minister (PM) left all of the organising to the IOC. Attlee did support the idea of the games to reconnect the community and attempted to provide some form of funding, however his view was to rebuild the economy and promote financial security to the majority of homes.
Whilst sports policies weren’t in place, the Butler Education Act (1944) did attempt to get more children involved in sport, and made it a legal responsibility to provide sporting facilities in secondary schools. This vital scheme may not have changed the outcome of the 1948 games, although it had a definitive impact for the 2012 Olympics, as the younger generation were introduced to sports and the necessity for physical activity.
In comparison, both Blair’s Labour (who were in charge over the bidding process of 2012) and Cameron’s Conservative government were completely behind the Olympic movement. The National Lottery funding scheme was set up in 1990 to supply equipment, sponsorship and money to the athletes who showed the greatest promise in their respective sporting events. Overall, 1200 British Olympians and Paralympians were funded by the government’s scheme and more than £2.2 billion was awarded to the athletes to threaten for the medals.
Furthermore, the government were instrumental in bringing the Olympics to London for 2012. Tony Blair travelled to Singapore in 2005 to prove the government’s backing to the Olympic selecting committee – something that had never previously been done by a British PM, and certainly a feat not seen in 1948. London won the bid to stage the games over four other competing cities in the most recent Olympics, however, the games were thrust upon Britain in 1948 as no other country was in a position to play host.
The Royal family also played a key role in both Olympics; King George VI announced at the opening ceremony that the games were officially beginning in front of over 80,000 spectators. In contrast, the members of the Royal family were much more proactive in the 2012 games, both before and during the event. Prince William travelled to Singapore with the PM to gain exposure for London’s bid, as well as providing the royals’ unwavering support for the cause.
In addition to this, Zara Phillips – the Queen’s granddaughter – competed in the equestrian event, winning silver in the team event and becoming the first person in the royal family to own an Olympic medal. To make the occasion even more special, Princess Anne, who competed in the 1984 Olympics, awarded the silver to her daughter at Greenwich Park, and created a lasting royal legacy that could continue for generations to come.
However, all the heightened public speculation on the Royal family and the pressure of hosting a major global event meant that in both cases, the media’s coverage of the games put a spotlight on London and Britain as a whole. The BBC was the only form of televised viewing in 1948, and paid 1000 guineas for the privilege, but other corporations across the globe could buy television rights to show specific events.
At the time, all television programmes had been suspended because of WW2, so the Olympics was the breakthrough in sports broadcasting, although there were many problems with this, mainly accessibility. Not all households owned a television in 1948, as they were a new invention that wealthy families could afford, excluding the majority of Britain. Therefore, BBC also integrated radio into their broadcasts of the Olympics. During the war, radio was every home’s form of communication, hence how the nation were aware of the successes of the games.
Comparatively, 2012 saw the rising of a new digital media age. Despite the BBC vying for few sporting events due to a lack of finances, they still ensured the rights to the Olympics, and had sole propriety of coverage in Britain. While radio isn’t used as frequently as it was in 1948, BBC Radio 5Live was still used as an integral part of their coverage. Meanwhile, the use of the internet has rocketed into the biggest digital power. The most recent London Olympics was the first time internet broadcasting had a contract separate from television, proving how much the world has progressed in technology and how we watch sport in the modern era.
The director of the IOC TV and marketing services, Timo Lumme, explained in 2010: “We’ve witnessed the rapid growth of digital media. In fact, we now have the same amount of hours covered globally on the internet and mobile phones as we have on TV.” In order to appeal to the masses, the IOC had to react to the public wanting sport on the go, and demonstrates the cultural shift from the whole family listening into the radio in 1948, to watching the Olympics on tablets, phones and other devices in multi-locations.
Society has adapted and changed how we consume sport too. There are few similarities between the two games in relation to how the athletes conducted themselves, both when competing and in training, posing the obvious question; Amateurism versus professionalism? In 1948, the athletes who competed in the games also had a working life (whether it be raising a family, or being the breadwinner of the household.)
In stark contrast, athletes competing in 2012 are perceived as seasoned professionals in their respective fields, who solely focus on training every day, and competing at the highest level in worldwide meetings. For example, Mo Farah was so dedicated to his bid of winning double gold in the Olympic stadium, he moved his whole family to Oregon, America, to concentrate on his training programme.
One key aspect that links amateurism and professionalism within the Olympics is that in either games in London, no athletes taking part were paid for their triumphs. However, Boxing is the only Olympic sport which still follows the ‘amateur’ lifestyle; anyone who competes in the sport is strictly prohibited to anyone who has had a professional career, showing that the essence of the Olympics still stands. Instances are Luke Campbell and Nicola Adams, who made their Olympic début in 2012, going on to win gold medals, and have now both stepped up to the professional game.
Whilst staging the games may have been seen as the priority, the media coverage of certain athletes also produced expectation and pressure on the ‘Poster Girls’ of both Olympics. The Dutch track and field specialist, Fanny Bankers-Koen went into the 1948 games as World Champion in no less than seven athletics disciplines, and was perceived as the star before the Olympics began. Nicknamed the ‘Dutch Flying Housewife’, she managed to juggle being a mother of two children, as well as a quadruple Olympic champion from the London games.
Despite the four gold medals she returned home with, she withdrew from the long jump competition to concentrate on the hurdles. The Dutch government presented her with a bicycle so, in their words, “You won’t have to run so much.” This could have been the moment where attitudes towards women were addressed as in the space of three years, women were involved in a world war and now creating heroic performances in front of millions.
Similarly, Jessica Ennis was Britain’s shining beacon of light, also coming from a background in track and field. The heptathlete’s face was plastered on posters across the city, showing how many of us were behind Ennis in her quest for gold. This clearly states how Britain have taken massive strides on the global stage and how the public expect greatness from our athletes. Using women as the face of the Olympics also shows how much has changed in the space of 64 years on terms of equality.
For instance, women presenters are starting to gain more coverage on mainstream, primetime television. No women were involved in front of the cameras for the BBC in 1948, whereas, the likes of Clare Balding, Hazel Irvine, Sue Barker and Denise Lewis were amongst many others commentating alongside men on the BBC alone, not including other female presenters from other television stations and programmes covering the Olympics.
Moreover, Olympic participation in women’s events has significantly increased since the Austerity games. Only 390 women participated in the earlier games out of 4,104 athletes. Meanwhile, the split was much more equal in 2012 (4,569 women/10,383 athletes.) Statistics like these reinforce the government’s scheme to get more females involved in sport as a whole, from grassroots to Olympic level.
It is not just women who are making significant breakthroughs in the fight for equality; people with various disabilities were able to gain media coverage and make it more acceptable in society to be handi-capable. The Paralympics were introduced in 1960, 12 years after the London games and have steadily been making progress in getting the deserved recognition. But 2012 produced the biggest, and most accessible, paralympics in history.
The event during September was as successful as the Olympics just two weeks previous, but Oscar Pistorius managed to blur the lines between able-bodied and disabled athletes, becoming the first person in history to compete in both global events. The South African ‘Bladerunner’ is a double leg amputee but achieved the standard time to race in the 400 metres and the relay for the Olympic team.
Coverage for the Paralympics had never been so widely accepted either, and programmes such as The Last Leg on Channel 4 (who had television rights) only aided and adapted people’s stances on disabilities – if these games were attempted in 1948, there would have been hushed, reverent tones of how the disabled shouldn’t receive any publicity whatsoever. People would condemn Britain for including them, proving how equality has shifted in just 64 years.
Success has always been measured in medals when relating to the Olympics, and as the government took more notice in sports, Britain’s rise up the medal table was also evident as a direct correlation. The 1948 Olympics saw just three gold medals in the entire competition for the host nation, claiming the top step on the podium for two of the rowing races and one sailing regatta. In addition to this, only 59 countries participated on the worldwide stage, despite only Italy, Germany and Japan being banned from the games.
Because of the government’s backing for professional sport in 2012, (and that the athletes were seen as role models for the younger generations) more time and effort had been put into the British athletes, and the success was unbounded. 29 gold medals and 65 in total for the host nation justifies the government’s ploy to get more people involved in sport as a whole, and proves that dedication and finances have a direct link with the amount of success a team achieves.
Moreover, the strength of the competition worldwide was unprecedented, as 204 nations participated in the most recent games; the highest on record. Not only does this show the scale of the British successes, it also exposes how accessibility has been improved. More countries are able to take part in the biggest global event, and have athletes from their respective nations able to get the funding to travel across the world, as well as be physically adept to be genuine competition.
In conclusion, both Olympic Games held in London were looking to the future as part of their long-lasting success, however, they differentiate in what their legacy was to maintain. The 1948 games’ aim was to reconstruct relations between all countries involved, acting as a form of the United Nations playing international peacemaker. Whereas 2012’s bid was heavily based on sustaining the legacy created in the six-week period where all eyes focussed on the city.
They had planned for the future – football team, West Ham, will move their home fixtures to the Olympic Stadium, but still maintain the athletics track, as well as hosting other world sporting events in the remaining infrastructures built for the games. Similarly, inspiring a generation was vital to their winning bid. However, the long-term concern is that what makes the Olympics unique may be eroded over time if financial and commercial interests are prioritised over the sports themselves, which realistically means only a handful of cities will be able to host the global event in future years.