Mon, September 23, 2013

The Games has its share of technical issues

By Steve Buffery, QMI Agency


Visitors walk past the Olympic Stadium in the Olympic Park before the last rehearsal of the Opening ceremony in east London on July 25, 2012, two days before the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games. (AFP/JOHANNES EISELE)


LONDON - It’s far too early to write off or brand these Olympics, but as a group of Canadians waited for the cash registers to come back on-line at City of Coventry Stadium, one dude, after waiting 40 minutes for a cheese and onion pasty, quipped: “Now I know why my grandparents emigrated.”

The Games haven’t officially begun, but there have already been a series of embarrassing snafus and other, more serious, problems -- massive slowdowns on the highway and transit systems this week, a lack of private security officials (forcing organizers to summon the military, though Torontonians certainly have no right to get snooty about calling in the army for non-military purposes), and a flag flap at a women’s soccer game in Glasgow which resulted in yet another North Korean delegation becoming outraged about something.

Clearly, all has not gone well in the buildup to the London Olympics, though British Prime Minister David Cameron put on a happy face Thursday and vowed that all is well. That remains to be seen. Certainly everyone involved in these Olympics is pulling for the organizers to get their act together.

Almost everyone.

For a group of Canadians attending these Games, there was a definite feeling of schadenfreude as the bad news presented itself.

One only has to go back two years, to when the British press went on a feeding frenzy, ripping the Vancouver Games, the organizers, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the city itself prior to the start of those Games.

Some outlets were worse than others, but the criticisms were so widespread and mean-spirited that many Vancouver residents thought that perhaps the angry Brits were attending a different Olympics.

The Vancouver Games did got off to an unfortunate, and in one case tragic, start with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. But by the time the closing ceremony rolled around, the general consensus was that the city and organizers put on a wonderful show, British media be damned.

Of course, ripping foreign organizing committees and cities is nothing new to the British press. I remember one writer from the Daily Telegraph skewering Edmonton, the host city of the 2001 world track and field championships, for being boring and unappealing, slapping the Alberta capital with the nickname “Deadmonton.”

So, yes, there were a few smirks and sneers this week as the flubs mounted in Jolly Old England.

Based on personal experience, the London organizers do have a lot work to do.

A day trip to Coventry Wednesday quickly turned into a comedy of errors, starting with passengers on the fast train being forced to disembark and wait for another slower train; to mass confusion at the stadium (no one was quite sure where anything was or where anyone was supposed to go); to even more misadventures on the home-bound train, which featured the overhead air conditioner leaking into the passenger compartment and a massive argument between a deadbeat passenger and ticket collector, which turned into an unfortunate racial row.

Certainly this hasn't been the start organizers were hoping for.

But through it all, the British tradition of politeness and good cheer has prevailed. No matter what the mixup, officials, volunteers and even the British military have been exceedingly helpful and friendly.

Journalists are greeted at security tents with a pleasant “ya alright?” and problems are smartly addressed, followed with a series of heart-felt apologies. These Games may be plagued with problems (or not), but you can bet that they will all be met with a smile and the proverbial stiff upper lip.

A group of us have come up with a theory on how London officials plan to handle screw-ups and frustrated scribes. It's the "pretty girl theory”.

At every venue, so it seems, they put the prettiest, friendliest girl up front, the theory being that journalists and other Olympic visitors won't remain angry for long when they¹re dealing with a friendly and pretty girl, especially one with a British accent.

We’ve seen it first hand. It seems to work.

So we can chalk up at least one victory for the London Games.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @beezersun