Britain’s Identity Crisis and National Branding at the Olympics

BBC’s Olympics blog recently posed the query: “What is the image of the UK around the world?” Good question.

The inquiry originated with the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee who in this next year and a half leading up to the Games will be increasingly preoccupied with the impact of the Games on the UK’s national brand.  And rightly so.

Rewind 3 years: The world watched with baited breath as the Beijing 2008 Games opened with the insane 2,008 drummers sequence (and honestly just got even crazier as it went on. Photos here).  The build-up to the games, however, was a spectacle in and of itself.  China won the 2008 Summer bid back in 2001, defeating its more Westernized, democratic competitors, Toronto, Paris, Istanbul, and Osaka.  Media outlets speculated that the bid had been won through widespread international support, despite protests by human rights organizations.  Regardless, China now had 8 years to strategically re-brand its nation in anticipation of their summer in the world’s spotlight.  Beijing’s campaign slogan became “One World, One Dream,” a call for the world to unite around the Games for a better future.  Their mascot was a dancing character with extended arms, welcoming the world to “Beautiful Beijing.”

They even rolled out the big guns. Some obviously bigger than others. (Photo STR/AFP/Getty Images).

Unlike the UK’s Foreign Committee, China posed no such question to the world.  They knew where they stood.  The issue of the UK seems to be that no one really knows for sure where they stand in the world.  Powerful, but at times in the US’ shadow.  Developed, but currently struggling economically.  Open to world trade, but part of the EU, so not really open to world trade.  China’s image needed work.  The UK’s needs definition.

The word on the table right now is “generous” as proposed by committee chair Richard Ottaway.  London as generous, diverse, and inclusive.  Other words given in the blog, however, include “stuffy, aloof, and emotionally chilly.”  Roger Mosey asks, “So what do you reckon: will “generous” win the day? And is it possible to translate the aspirations of London 2012 about modern Britain into a reality our diplomats can communicate with confidence – because they’re true?”

Regardless of its previous image, Beijing came away from the 2008 Games with massive gains in international credibility and global recognition.  Soon the world will find out what impact the Games have on the UK’s global rep.  But right now the more pressing question is, What is the UK’s global rep?


One comment

  1. Pingback: British Identity Crisis Pt. 2: “This is who we are.” « Good Times and Gold Medals

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