Sponsors: The Rights and Wrongs of Olympic Spirit

Jul 31, 2012   //   by Keith McDonald   //   Credit Cards  //  Comments Off on Sponsors: The Rights and Wrongs of Olympic Spirit

Five Gold Rings

London 2012 Cost Infographic

On the surface, it’s a bit of a gaffe for the French President to state that a French Olympics would be interested in gold rather than money. We all know what he meant, but there’s nothing like a speculative show of one-upmanship between old friends!

Wordplay aside – during a visit on Monday, Francois Hollande confirmed what a lot of us have already observed but that organisers have vehemently denied: that there are “simply too many corporate seats” not being used.

The Olympics appear to be fitting in seamlessly to the wider context of 2012: large conglomerates ruling the show; disingenuous implications about tax breaks; and denial of opportunity.

Of course, such events couldn’t cope without vast sums from sponsors. But there comes a point when we have to ask what, and who, sporting events are for.

Frequently, the large corporate crowds at Wembley wander off from England games and FA Cup Finals. It’s cringeworthy, even as onlookers, to recognise how many places have been allotted to those who see these events as little more than a networking opportunity.

We need sponsors, true enough. But is it never possible to agree smaller packages that involve far fewer wasted tickets? While it’s unlikely that all of the lost revenue would be clawed back by selling premium seats to the thousands of spectators that actually want to attend, some of it undoubtedly would be. And at least there would be capacity, and atmosphere – everything that would help our charges along.

The least that will (and should) be expected from an Olympics that have cost the public an eyewatering £11 billion is that the people get the chance to witness what they’ve paid so much to host.

Organisers are looking to implement a strategy for re-sales, and more tickets have been made available online. It is hard to believe, given the rather infamous example above, that this eventuality was never envisaged.

The Visa Monopoly: Do Not Pass ATM; Do Not Collect £200.

And perhaps the epitome of corporate dominance affecting the public experience of the games is the principal sponsor, Visa.

We noted 18 months ago that the exclusivity deal between Visa and the Olympic organisers forced fans to pay for tickets using only Visa debit and  credit cards (read more).

This agreement has now manifested itself to ground level, however, with attendees at all 2012 venues only able to pay for items using cash or Visa cards.

Every non-Visa ATM machine across all Olympic venues has been covered, taken out, or disabled.

As one of the world’s foremost payment systems, surely Visa had something more to offer? Indeed it did. Contactless payment was an option. That is, until it promptly broke down at Wembley, leaving those without cash totally helpless.

Visa promptly blamed the venue, as well it might. The concern is, though: even with a catastrophe of NatWest proportions, there would be little that could be done. Limiting access to money is a major risk; as is relying upon electronic systems when we’ve just had a full demonstration of how easily they can go wrong.

With a plastic payment monopoly set in place, there’s a distinct danger that the experience of the games could be severely curtailed by the need to satiate the downright antisocial demands of the sponsor.

Endeavour and Experience

Before I’m accused of overlooking the achievement of the games, I’d like to dampen any such complaints in advance.

As an ex- volleyball player, few would have been more delighted than me to see the Great British women’s volleyball team record a maiden Olympic victory over Algeria.

Despite having to come from behind twice to register a fifth set victory, the Team GB women thoroughly outplayed the African champions, ranked 53 places above them in the world rankings.

What makes this all the more remarkable is the fact that the team had their funding cut two years ago by the British Volleyball Federation. They have subsequently scrimped, saved and sacrificed their own way to Earls Court.

The team has remained alive through sponsorship initiatives including ‘Adopt an Olympian’, whereby members engage closely with sponsoring individuals and institutions.

They have run coaching sessions at schools, organised numerous fundraising events, and cycled from Sheffield to London to ensure that their preparatory programme could enable them to perform competitively. The team has been camped at the South Yorkshire Fire Station this summer in preparation for the games.

GB Women's Volleyball - Simple, and Hopeful

Team member Lucy Wicks has revealed how their lives have revolved around the single small hope of defeating the odds to make it to London.

Careers take a back seat, finances take a back seat. People used to own houses, or have boyfriends and a proper career. All of those things have disappeared for this one goal. But even those who don’t make it I think will look back with no regrets.

Lucy Wicks, Team GB Volleyball

Arguably, it was the loss of funding and the adversity that drew a togetherness and resolve that might otherwise not have happened.

It’s not easy to represent your country and it’s not meant to be easy, you’ve got to work hard, whether it’s to try to raise money or to try to figure our what you’re going to cook that doesn’t cost very much, it’s all part of the challenge, but it’s got to be done.

That is the Olympic spirit exemplified in grand style, and the kind of supportive sponsorship that we should be proud to adorn.

Re-live the moment of victory here.

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