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A Home Games but for whom?

With the start of London 2012 upon us author of a new book on the Olympics Mark Perryman questions who will, and won’t, get the tickets.

Just one click away and the Olympic tickets are mine. I’ve plumped for the Bronze Medal men’s hockey match, which leaves me treacherously hoping Team GB will be battling it out for third place rather than going for Gold. And an early round of the water polo too. The latter quite an Olympian bargain, £20 each for two adults and our three year old has a pay-your-age ticket, just £3 for him.

So what could there possibly be to complain about? Plenty. Take Wednesday afternoon’s opening game of the Olympic Women’s football tournament, GB vs New Zealand , played in a half-empty Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.  Its an example of the spectacular mismanagement of the Olympic programme to virtually ensure this is a Games for the few not the many. Never mind Team GB playing in Wales where almost every football fan will be used to shouting for Wales, never England and not often GB either. These divisions run deep in our fan culture and a smart new Union Jack kit is not going to transform this overnight. Both the women’s and men’s football teams are effectively England plus a handful of other home nation’s useful additions to the squad.

So the location wasn’t ideal. But what about the kick off time? Why on earth choose 4pm, effectively meaning anyone going has to take if not a whole day off work at least the afternoon. Adding to the cost and the inconvenience. And the price. For well-paid LOCOG executives £20 may seem reasonable for the lowest priced ticket, but its not so cheap for a branch of football that has little or no record of attracting the kind of crowd to fill the Millennium, 75,000. For goodness sake the men’s Welsh team have struggled to fill it on more than one occasion.

Its a fairly reliable law of marketing, halve the price, double the crowd. An evening or weekend kick off, £10 a ticket and perhaps facing the reality of the squad selection, in an English football stadium and Wednesday afternoon might well have been a capacity crowd, giving tens of thousands more the chance to be part of the 2012 Olympics.

In 2005 the North West of England successfully hosted the Women’s European Football Championship. Blackpool, Blackburn, Warrington and Manchester all hosted games. The Olympic football tournaments, men and women’s, are both effectively mini World Cups with group stages and knock out rounds.  The challenge is to sell tickets not just for the Team GB games, which generally have been popular, but the other countries’ games too, which haven’t. It is that combination that more than anything would turn the Olympics into a festival of sporting internationalism rather than just a matter of how many Golds Team GB can win. Basing the football tournaments each in a region, with their own opening and closing ceremony, free-to-watch warm up games, all of this could have helped contributed to the sense of the Olympics being a National Event rather than something happening in London that these Games still project.

And my Hockey tickets? This is a 16-team tournament all played in the one, 15,000 capacity, stadium within the Olympic Park. This means a squeezed programme involving matches kicking off at 08.30 in the morning. The Water Polo tournament is also all squeezed into the single Olympic Park pool meaning some games don’t finish until 22.45. Crazy, and all the consequence of the Olympic model of centralisation. As with the football tournaments these group and knock out stage contests could have been hosted in a city or region, providing many more early evening and weekend games, the local host  putting on their own opening and medal ceremonies. An Olympics that in large part belonged to Glasgow and Edinburgh, Cardiff and Swansea, The North-West, North-East, Yorkshire, East and West Midlands. With a vast increase in the number of tickets and massive reduction in prices too, wouldn’t this be a better model for the Olympics?

Before, the kind of programming madness LOCOG has committed might have been justified by the TV schedules, to reduce the risk of clashes. But not any more, with the famous red button I’ve lost count of how many Olympic Channels the BBC are promising , 24 I think was the latest figure. So the bulk of the programme could surely have been shifted to weekday evening and weekends to maximise accessibility. A Games for the many to go and watch. Instead except for the lucky few, amongst whom I  now number myself, it will be a case of watching a ‘home’ Games from the sofa and via the remote.

Of course this is a different model for the Olympics, but a year ago 22 million applied for tickets. The demand was obviously there.  A relatively small country with still the basis of a half-decent transport infrastructure could have facilitated the idea that what makes a ‘home’ games so special is providing a format to maximise the numbers taking part.

As the Games begin  for those who like me love their sport it will be a feast. But this is no reason not to imagine how much better they could have been, after all for most of us we won’t see their like on these shores again in our lifetimes. What a waste.

Mark Perryman is the author of the newly published book Why The Olympics Aren’t Good For Us And How They Can Be, just £8 (£6 kindle edition) from

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