I was interview by a journalist from AFP last week about the presence of London 2012 organisers in Beijing, observing and networking in preparation for London’s games in four years time. I was asked about the value of visiting other host cities and what, specifically, London could hope to learn.
As has become quite clear now, the levels of resource that China has been able to bring to bear on Beijing 2008 has been astronomical, with most estimates coming at between $36bn-$40bn, around double the amount predicted for London 2012. In addition to this, the level of control that the Chinese government have been able to exert over the scope and pace of development is something that the vast majority of future host cities will be unable to match and that even China itself may not be able to replicate for future mega-projects as the institutions of civil society and neo-liberalism emerge within its own borders. Paul Deighton, the Chief Executive of LOCOG, is quoted as saying that London 2012 is more likely to be the model for future games and he is most likely correct. But how far can the experience of any host city influence future games? The example of Barcelona 1992 is one the most-often referred to when host cities are looking to emphasise the transformative benefits of hosting the games, but the specific combination of political personalities, economic conditions and strategic vision (if not always strategic planning!) is something that can’t just be taken ‘off-the-shelf’ and implanted elsewhere. Much of the knowledge transfer between games is taking place through the movement of individuals with experience of Olympics projects between host cities and, although there will always be a vital amount of transferability, the importance of local knowledge is paramount to a successful games.
What London will be observing keenly in Beijing is how they deal with the security situation. This has two components. Firstly, explicit terrorist threats such as the one made to Beijing last week and the events in Xinjaing province. What impact will these events have on security arrangements and the perception of games-time safety by participants and spectators, given that similar threats are likely during 2012? (I have blogged hereabout the costs of London’s games-time security) Secondly, how is protest being managed during the games by the Chinese authorities? Despite the dramatic rise in protest activity in China over the last five years the Chinese government normally responds in a draconian fashion to political protest. During the games, China has had to adopt a (slightly) more liberal stance on this issue. The London games is likely to be the first civil-protest games, with activist groups coordinating activity on a broad spectrum of issues. London will be looking at response-innovations such as defined protest areas and protest permits with a view to minimizing the disruption during the 2012 games.
You can read the AFP story here.