The Evening Standard

Vancouver has one clear lesson for organisers of London 2012 — keep the Olympics simple or you will end up looking stupid.

Witness the lighting of the Olympic flame. Vancouver decided that four iconic Canadians, led by ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky, were needed to light the cauldron with four giant shards of ice jutting from the ground. Only three shards emerged. One unlit shard, one self inflicted wound.

Not one of the four Canadians were from Quebec, the French speaking province that still harbours secessionist ideas. And with little reference to this French province in the opening ceremony, the flame merely reignited the divide between the French and English.

Two days later Vancouver did hail Alexandre Bilodeau, from Quebec, when he became the first Canadian to win gold on home soil. But many in Quebec felt they were only welcome at this English party if they won gold.

The other 2010 party idea proved an even bigger embarrassment. A second, permanent cauldron to highlight the spectacular natural setting of a city by the sea overlooked by mountains must have seemed a brilliant idea.

But then someone decided to put it behind fencing and much of the first week was marred by protests as Canadians called for an end to Vancouver’s Berlin wall.

Games chief executive Jon Furlong tried to put on a brave face and by the second week was claiming that the Games had not only changed Vancouver but that the whole experience was a new one for Canadians. “People are celebrating over the whole of Canada.”

This was not all spin but, in truth, the organisers were saved by the people of Vancouver deciding to use the Olympics for a huge party.

The warmest February in 114 years may have caused problems on the mountains — forcing snow to be imported and 28,000 tickets refunded at a cost of millions — but in Robson Square, it meant nightly crowds of thousands, many in T-shirts, holding a remarkable open-air Olympic party.

The celebrations were taken to new heights on the final evening when Sidney Crosby’s extra-time winning goal secured ice hockey gold.

Will that sort of fervour be matched in London? Urvasi Naidoo, the Manchester-based chief executive of the International Netball Federation, who was a volunteer in Canada, said: “This is the sort of patriotism which exists in the UK only in football. That is the only time all the flags come out and even then it is the St George’s Cross of England not the Union Jack. I was stunned by the amount of people who have spent money to buy Canada branded merchandise.

“Can you see people in London showing up to the venues wearing Union Jack clothing?”

Naidoo also met a Briton working for a 2010 sponsor. “He couldn’t care less who had won the skating or the half pipe. He said, If I was at home I wouldn’t even be watching’. My feeling is that the whole of Canada is partying. What will our passion be?”

London’s organisers are confident that the Games will have passion. But they have first to decide the party location. Many prefer Trafalgar Square but Craig Reedie, the Briton on the executive board of the International Olympic Committee, would like it to be in Leicester Square.

Event pricing is another headache for 2012, who must raise £400m from tickets yet ensure not too many reach the prawn-sandwich brigade. They are talking of £25 tickets but that will need subsidies, possibly from public funds.

London 2012 is also aware that it faces a hard sell on Olympic traffic lanes. In Vancouver they were discreetly marked and 2012 still has to decide where they will be.

Reedie says: “We will have to use bus lanes because London is an old city and there are often only two lanes. The great issue will be to persuade Londoners that for a relatively limited period there will be some traffic disruption. If we can’t do that the Games will not work properly.”


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