Chapter II: Society & Identity

Excerpt from Chapter


“The present chapter considers how concerns about social issues and identity have defined the Olympic Games in the past and what this may mean for their future.

Initially, we outline some key moments in Olympic history when both planned and unplanned narratives about the Games have been pivotal in how they were perceived and subsequently remembered. Here, we also identify how the IOC has shaped the Olympic persona over the years and the challenge for host cities in aligning themselves with its ideals and expectations. Next, we consider what underpins a city’s desire to host an Olympic Games and the challenges over what local and national legacy mega-events can leave behind, a theme we take up further in Chapter VIII. It is around this construct that problems begin to arise, as the direction a city may take after hosting an Olympic Games may not suit the aspirations of everyone within its population. Thus, we conclude the chapter by examining aspects of identity that are recurrent sites of resistance around the Olympics, focusing particularly on the tensions between global, corporate and exclusive versus local, community and inclusive policies and processes.

Throughout, we argue that the Olympic Games is a project of identity formation, contestation and consolidation. In other words, it can give rise to new ideas about a population’s identity, serve to challenge established ideas, or reinforce cliches and stereotypes. These processes occur concurrently during the hosting period fuelled by personal as well as media-led cultural and political discourses. Sometimes, these ways of constructing identity may articulate serious social issues, which have important consequences for people’s perception over the value of the Games, as in the case of debates about forced evictions, where communities are displaced and destroyed to make way for new Olympic venues. Alternatively, the Games organizers may find a way of intervening in an emerging discourse and transforming it into something else. For example, in the case of the Athens 2004, after months of criticism over their delayed venues, the organizers included a comedic film within the Opening Ceremony depicting construction workers in the stadium moving around in high-speed to finish the stadium just in time for the ceremony”