USC Olympians, stakeholders and experts reflected on the London Olympic Games’ impact on participants and diplomacy during the panel discussion “Sports Diplomacy and the 2012 London Olympics” Thursday afternoon. The event was hosted by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and the British Consulate-General in Los Angeles at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Panel participants included Dame Barbara Hay, the British Consul-General in Los Angeles; Barry Sanders, chairman of the Southern California committee for the Olympic Games; Flóra Bolonyai, an Olympian who competed with the Hungarian National Water Polo Team; James Clark, an Olympian and member of the Australian National Water Polo Team; and Stina Gardell, an Olympic swimmer for Sweden who competed in both the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley. The panel was moderated by Philip Seib, director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.
Hay began by listing some of London’s public diplomacy goals when it hosted the Olympic Games this year. One goal was “re-generating a part of East London that had basically been a bomb site during [World War II],” Hay said.
London constructed the largest new park in the city since World War II, according to Hay.
Hay said that in addition to building up East London, the London Games provided the U.K. with an opportunity to promote its ecological goals.
“We wanted to apply the most … efficient, eco-friendly innovations,” Hay said. “Ninety percent of the derelict land on which we built the Olympic Stadium [and] Olympic Park was cleaned up and re-used.”
London also stressed the importance of participation in the games from both genders, according to Hay.
“The participation of women was immensely important to us [and] every single team had women athletes in it … which was groundbreaking for the women in those countries who’d never been able to compete,” Hay said.
Some panelists, however, said the athletes at the Olympics are more focused on their contests.
“In the heat of the moment you’re only thinking about one thing and that’s competition,” Clark said.
Though the games are primarily a competition, the panel members were conscious of the Olympics’ symbolic significance. One member of the audience asked if national rivalry plays a part in the tenacity of the team’s play.
“Sportsmanship overrides anything else that’s going on [politically] in the world at that time,” Clark said.
Some students said the discussion illuminated how personal the Olympic Games can be for athletes. Kia Hays, a graduate student studying public diplomacy who attended this year’s games, found the discussion very informative.
“I did not even know race-walking was a sport,” Hays said.
Other students believe that regardless of the amazing variety of sports, one of the greatest strengths about the competition is its emphasis on putting differences aside.
Shannon Haugh, a first year graduate student pursuing a masters in public diplomacy said, “It’s interesting how at the end of the day it’s not about the political side of it.”