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Papers should do a few Olympic focus groups and listen to what people are saying

Posted on 21 July 2012 | 6:07am

Greetings from France, where this weekend Bradley Wiggins will write himself into the list of great British sportsmen. The Tour de France is one of the greatest and toughest sporting events in the calendar, and to be the first ever Brit to win it, just five years after British Cycling genius Dave Brailsford set that ambition, is the stuff of legend. If Wiggo was a golfer or a tennis player, UK media mania would be going into meltdown.

Here in France, though they resent the paucity of French winners in recent years, there is genuine recognition of Wiggins’ talent and achievement. Of course they don’t particularly want a Brit to win, but there is a real respect for him that comes through the coverage.

I am not saying the UK media has been negative about him. Far from it. But within the UK media, much more than in other advanced democracies, there is always that tension in the papers born of their not being sure if they want something to go well or badly.

As I never tire of saying, the positive to negative ratio in British papers (which hugely influence the broadcasters) has gone from broadly positive to wildly negative in recent years, at a time when most people have seen considerable improvement in their lives.

The public are onto this, and it is coming through in their assessment of coverage of the Olympics.

I was recently at a focus group being organised by a company that had nothing to do with the Olympics. The talk however, when people were asked what they had noticed in the news, quickly moved to the Games, and then to media coverage. This was just a snapshot discussion, but if I can sum it up,it came out something like this – we the people are desperate for the Games to succeed because we need something to cheer us up; and the media re desperate for them to fail because they see their mission to make us more miserable than we already are. And there were only two Mail readers in the group. This feeling goes beyond that particular putrescence.

As the Leveson Inquiry has unfolded, the strong sense of denial about the state of their industry by its leaders has come through strongly. They continue to labour under the illusion that they somehow speak for their readers. In fact they are out of tune with them in lots of ways, and the tone on the Olympics is one of them.

A specific example raised was the story of the Australian sail that went missing. On one of the busiest days in Heathrow’s history, as thousands of extra Games passengers arrived, there was a story to be told of the remarkable logistical success. Yet the slightest thing that went slightly wrong – and in the case of the sail was quickly resolved – was deemed to be news.

The delivery of the Games is one of the most remarkable stories of our time – just go and see the new stadia, reflect on the speed with which they have gone up, without a single death among the people involved in the construction. Just take a moment to reflect on the amount of preparation that has gone into, and continues to go into, transporting, housing, feeding, training great athletes in many sports from around the world. Then think about how many hours of top level competitive sport are about to take place, and how much happiness and entertainment they are going to bring to people all over the world.

The G4S shambles was serious, newsworthy and a genuine issue. But there are so many other stories from these Games, even before the action has started, and if my focus group and many other chats I have had with people are anything to go by, the public would like to hear more of the good ones.

Of course there are some who wish the thing wasn’t happening, who cannot see beyond queues, Olympic lanes, tube congestion and the rest of it. They are a minority. It is time, in the tone of coverage, that the media reflected the views of the majority, who want the Games to go well, and want to see and hear they are doing so as we go along.

  • Very well said. The high level of negativity does little to see UK Plc overseas, or motivate to succeed. A balance needs to be found.

  • Excellent comment.

  • What a refreshing perspective!

    Along with all the other good news you mention, we should also bear in mind the goodwill and good humour of the tens of thousands of volunteers: 70,000 Gamesmakers who’ll bring a unique British character to these Games, and 10,000 performers in the opening and closing ceremonies for both Games.  I’m lucky enough to be among the latter: it’s required hard work and dedication for all of us (150 hours of rehearsals for 15 minutes in the ceremony), but I have never experienced such camaraderie, connection and excitement among such a large group. 

    It really is disappointing and frustrating that the media has dedicated far more column inches to that sail than they have to our energy.  I expect that, this time in a week, they’ll have detected which way the tide is flowing, and will transform their tone.

  • DavidExx

    Pretty spot on – noticeable that media outlets full of anticipation of disaster on morning of “Heathrow’s busiest day” but hardly a mention by that evening after it all went well. More interested in “story” of one bus driver who took one wrong turn!

  • Malvickery

    i agree this is happening but for the life of me i cant understand why, i understand why the Tour is not making the news and that is because ITV has the broadcasting rights an has stuck it on ITV4 a channel many dont even realise they have,this limits the ability of other TV stations to cover it, as for the Olympics many media outlets look at the cost and know that any failure can he highlighted by using money spent as a headline.and it is always easier to criticise and event than organise one

  • Not specifically on the Games, but the just-published Hansard Audit of Political Engagement study on Politics and the Media points to the same public frustration with negativity in the media. Report at:

  • Watoop

    Have to say, I think your analysis is off beam re: Olympics. My experience is that although people want it to succeed, there is no appetite for a jingoistic, ‘isn’t it great here’ type of showcase. The state of the economy and the policies of this Government mean people are far more worried about the future past a two week sporting event. They are also affronted by the obvious hijacking of the Games by Corporates and the complete failure to make good on the “Legacy” promises anywhere outside London (remember all those promises about sport for all).

  • Anonymous

    Please Alastair, can you just wait for BW to cross the finishing line firstly, it can easily still go so wrong. If he has a puncture on tomorrows time trial, it will be curtains, for instance.

    With the Olympics, there has been some strange going ons from the establishment, verging on nonsense psychotic paranoia gone mad, as this artist,

    sorry, came across that, so posted it, this artist I am on about, from Kent,

    Just hope the Olympics will just start, so that these numnuts behind their phones and PCs in their operation rooms actually have more important things to get on with. Pathetic it is.

    And don’t get me started when that bagel shop got raided by the local council for having coated bagels in the style of the Olympic rings in their shop window. And pepsi tee shirt wearers won’t be allowed into the stadium, and etc. etc.. Coe hasn’t helped with the shit he has come out with, but it is quite funny he hasn’t specifically had a go at Kate Middleton’s family – is he too shithouse, and just a simple bully, picking on the small people?

    The micro-small bagel shop story here, pathetic it is,

    From the yesterdays Daily Snail, for balance. Not bad I think, DM must be started to realise on which side their bread is buttered, ey, all?

  • I’m so glad you’ve said this. I love the Olympics, always have, and in my first year of full-time freelancing was very much looking forward to my two weeks working part time while watching as much as I can on the telly. All this negative media coverage, coupled with quite a few negative comments in my social networks, have made me worried it was going to be spoiled. This restores my faith in my decision to embrace the Games and support and cheer for those who try hard and excel!

  • Anonymous

    By the way, anyone know where is Michele is these days? Could be on hols – it is “summer” after all. If anyone is in contact with her, please do, and let know.

    No panic, just like to know, I am nosey, in that way, care for fellow man/woman, and all that, that one gets to know, albeit online.

  • ambrosian

    Opinion polling on the Olympics has shown that a majority of the population has little or no interest in the Olympics and the figures haven’t shifted much as the games have got closer. That’s hardly surprising since these are all minority sports and even the football is regarded by most football fans as a mickey mouse competition.

    Of course, people may still wish the event to be a success even if they won’t be watching it themselves and may feel the media coverage is too negative. But sports enthusiasts like yourself always exaggerate the level of interest in sport. Even England’s quarter final Euro match was ignored by two thirds of the population.

  • sarah dodds

    I am really looking forward to the Games…..once the sport has started. I dutifully took my kids to see the torch pass through my home town of Louth (think sausages people!) There was not an “event” it was just passing through. I was with my 4 kids, aged between 3 and 12. It was 7am and I had achieved miracles to get them out for that time and it goes without saying it was raining (this achievement totally invalidates any reason before of after for school run lateness, and I thought merited me being given chance to run with the torch myself).
    The sponsorship lorries went passed blaring some quite awfully distorted music. The torch went passed. We clapped and cheered and did the “right thing.”  But there was a bit of a sour taste, but I did not let on to my kids. And then my 12 year old turned round and said “That was all wayyyyy to corporate.” I did not know whether to hug her out of left wing  maternal pride or cringe, but I felt that she had told me that the tooth fairy and Father Christmas were not real.
    But once the sport starts, I will be loving it.
    ……..Sausage, anyone?

  • Ian B

    I think there are two things going on here, at least for me. 

    The first is enjoying the Olympics as a sporting festival and spectacle.I have no doubt that it will be a great games. For those of us well away from London, the multiple digital channels which the BBC have put in place will be great, especially for sports which get little coverage otherwise such as fencing.

    What I am not interested in is the garbage which has attached itself to the games and the missed opportunities.  We brew the finest beers in the world in the UK – a great opportunity to celebrate them? No, official pouring rights for Heineken.  We have fantastic food and produce in the UK, so of course official food sponsor is MacDonalds. etc. etc. And then there is G4S. And the way in which the local community was treated when the stadium and surrounds was built etc. etc.

    This does not seem to me to be an either/or situation (and generating false polarities is another old media trope). There is much to celebrate but that shouldn’t blind us to the rest of the nonsense.

  • Anonymous

    Agree. The only people apart from the press who are negative about the Games are those who will be badly affected by the inevitable traffic chaos (but who are subsidised by the rest of us for the privilege of living in London), and fans who labour under the misapprehension that professional football is a sport.

    However, the sponsorship issue is real. It would have been well worth the money if the government had subsidised UK food, drink. etc producers in place of Macdonalds and Heineken; seems silly to spend billions on a shop window and then fill it full of other people’s products.

  • Mark Wright

    Have no fear, the media will turn into a salivating wreck at the first GB gold medal.

    I predict endless front pages consisting of:

    a) GB gold medal winners
    b) attractive foreign women olympic tourists wearing bikinis enjoying the heatwave in the parks of London
    c) Peter Bone’s leadership challenge to David Cameron *

    * we can but hope

  • reaguns

    Ah Alastair, I see the dark arts of spin are in full flow today. There is false logic in this post.

    Firstly can I say that the evidence I have for people’s opinions is purely anecdotal, ie its of exactly the same quality as Alastairs. Almost everyone I speak to could not care less about the Olympics, but the Londoners I speak to are dreading it.

    Secondly, the people who are looking forward to it… can look forward to it whether its in London or Timbuktu! I was looking forward to Euro 2012 which was in Poland and the Ukraine, the latter of which is a godforsaken place! Didn’t matter to me, I planned to watch it on TV.

    Same with the Olympics – I will look forward to the football, boxing, tennis, races from 100m to 1500m, long jump, high jump – then the rest is all egg and spoon races for rich people I’m afraid, invented so that countries like Britain can pretend they are winning medals. But the fact it is in London does not make it better for me, but worse. If France had won the bid, I could have got just as much fun from watching it and none of the inconvenience.

    Thirdly, as we see no figures for what it costs compared with what it brings in, we can safely assume that we will make a huge loss on it. We can also safely assume that it will bring no growth and jobs in the future as its defenders will say – after all the height of the jobs and growth it would bring should be occurring now and in the period when we were building stuff for it. Did that happen Alastair, did it? You are trapped me old son, you cannot say the olympics is good for jobs and growth but the Tory government has been bad for the same! I who hate subsidising both on the other hand can say I’d much prefer if both of them could have been moved to Outer Mongolia!

  • reaguns

    Fully agreed, the best post on the thread.

    The football needn’t be Mickey Mouse but we have treated it as such, building our team on political grounds instead of on football grounds. Gary Neville tells that Gabriel Heinze was really really up for the olympics for Argentina in 2004, because the South Americans treat it like a big deal.

    The rules are fuzzy as to who can play and who can’t, but we should do what everyone else does and pick the best players allowed by the rules instead of making it like an exhibition team with the likes of Ryan Giggs in it. About 8 years ago would have been the time to enter a team with Ryan Giggs in it.

    Sorry I realise your post indicates you have no interest in football, but my post is to show that even those of us who are interested in football remain to be persuaded by British involvement in the Olympics and Olympics football.

  • reaguns

    I was wondering that too. What with Alastair only doing a couple of blogs per week and only uploading comments about once a day (just allow instant posting already AC – that way you get more of your message out on Labour, mental health etc), and now with no one to argue with, this site is getting pretty boring.

  • Anonymous

    oops, today’s time trial of course. This Tour de France goes on so long, war and peace seems less of a trial…

    Jacques Tati, on a bike, quite funny, I think….

    Ja, eine german, zieg heil, ja, tres bien.

  • Anonymous

    Did the kidies say “was that it mom, don’t wake me early again for this nonsense, I could have been watching milkshake on channel five with Naomi (mmmm)”? : ) the lads that is…

    Song for your lads, if any, much more interesing than watching some unfit shits pass by carrying an overgrown cigarette lighter,

    But Naomi is quite slimline and athletic – swings and roundabouts, more less blurry, bouncing, ey young lads?

  • Anonymous

    used to be able to run three miles within eighteen minutes, but that was obviously years ago, be lucky to do it in nineteen these days, uphill, a welsh mountain…. 56lbs on my back…

  • Anonymous

    Ach, instant posting doesn’t work, Alastair works for publication time, SEND, and at least I see he does it three times a day, rather than one in the old paper days. I think it works. And remember reaguns, Alastair does it DIY – not many people realise that. But I think ocassionally others help, his daughter Grace maybe especially, but I am guessing.

    I have seen blogs fall to pieces when it is updated much too soon, or instant. The time lag works – stops online petty arguements start up, and people getting banned left right and centre, as I have found, reaguns… : )

  • Gilliebc

    Michele is away for a while Ehtch.  She did tell you in a reply to one of your posts!

  • Anonymous

    When I sang this in front of my daughter when she was eleven, she uncomfortable laughed at first, for some reason, way back in 2002, but then she realised I was pulling her leg, trying to make her uncomfortable, saying sexuality doesn’t stop at eleven.  And of course between the lines letting her know that I understand her coming sexuality. Well, something like that.

    Here is her and her friend at fourteen, explains everything – my daughter is behind the camera, near her mam’s home, where she lives, near Reigate in Slurrey, sorry, Surrey, near “The Reigate Massive”!?! – don’t ask, it’s an old story around there from old times, where young ladies where then in danger,

    Her friend had big milkshakes for a young one, I was told at the time, noticing.

  • Gilliebc

    Bollox to the Olympic Games and the Tour de France.  These and other over-hyped sporting events were only invented to make even more money for big companies and to distract the masses from what is really going on in the world. The introduction of more population controlling laws in London at this time.  e.g. Zil lanes in London, among other things, which they would never be allowed to get away with if it wasn’t for these damn Olympics.       

    No one I know is in the least bit interested in the OG.  People I come across whilst out and about are either indifferent or hostile and can’t wait for it to be over.        


  • ambrosian

     “Sorry I realise your post indicates you have no interest in football”
    On the contrary. I watched almost every match of the recent Euros but I don’t watch any other sport. Agree with your comments on the Olympic football. It’s a complete dog’s breakfast for GB and we might as well have gone another 50 years without participating.

    On the wider point, I do wish the media would stop assuming or pretending that an interest in sport is universal with stupid phrases like “the entire nation is on the edge of its seat”. Er no, have a look at the viewing figures.
    If I were to claim that the whole country was gripped by PMQs you’d rightly say that I’d lost my marbles. Yet we’ll no doubt be told that the country came to a halt as people watched GB win gold in the women’s tiddlywinks.

  • Richard

    People, including the press, are utterly fed up that YOUR
    Government could set off with a budget forecast of £2.3 billion for the Olympics.
    The latest figure for the spend seems to be £11 billion: it is said to be
    within that “budget”. Do you wonder that the public are so riled? The smugness
    of Jowell, CHunt etc about the whole event is nauseating.

    YOUR Government also set off on a budget of £40 million
    to build a Scottish parliament building which ended up costing £420 million. No
    apology, just “lessons have been learned”……..

    Lord Smug, who is so pleased with himself, chair of LOCOG
    is happy that each UK participant should be allocated two seats per event, at
    full cost to be borne by the athlete. On TV we have seen parents who are unable
    to attend their offspring’s event as siblings/wives/girlfriends have also to be
    considered. If each participant of the 542, allowed 10 free tickets, at say 5
    appearances (heats, finals etc) each would result in say 27,500 tickets at £50
    each resulting in loss of revenue of £1.4 million. Big deal to say thank you to
    the families for years of dedication to their 
    athlete family member. Out of a budget of £11  billion. Approx 0%!

    Now he tells us that any visitor to the park and Games
    will not be allowed to wear, say, a tee shirt promoting a brand which is a
    competitor of a sponsor. (EG Pepsi tee shirt not allowed!)

    Lord Smug justified this decision on the Radio yesterday.
    You all justify budgets as amounts to be spent. Targets.Minima.

    He obviously does not understand public feeling, and
    neither do you: your focus group notwithstanding you and the politicians cannot
    see anything wrong with any of the above. You are all playing MONOPOLY with our
    money and at last the public are seeing the light.

    How would we suffer as a nation if £3 million was spent
    on simple opening ceremony, not £30 million?

    We all want a fantastic, safe Celebration of youth and
    sport, but do not blame us if we feel that the delivery cost has been vastly
    overdone. The reflected glory that you (all politicians and their pimps)  want to bask in means nothing at all to the
    man in the street.

  • Richard

    Experience has taught the public that admiration of TDF cyclists is a dangerous game: how often have we found out that they have been drug fuelled cheats?
    To win the Tour, clean, is the greatest sporting achievement in sport, bar none.
    Wiggo as you call him has achieved it and should be BBC Sports Personality of the Year ++.
    Let us not even consider any subseqent scandal ………..

  • Dave Simons

     I hope the Olympics prove successful for all involved and interested, and I certainly hope we don’t get another Munich 1972, but otherwise I agree entirely – I think some of us need to express our right not to be interested in sport or the rather childish competitiveness associated with it. Also I used to work at Stratford and I can’t say that I approve of what’s happened to it as a result of the Olympics – I used to go for such bracing strolls on the Northern Outfall Sewer!

  • Dave Simons

    I’m coming to Louth in August, staying in a pub on Eastgate. Looking forward to the Hubbard Hills and the Wolds, not to mention the sausages!

  • sarah dodds

    If that is the Pack Horse, I may well see you there!The other place to try is the Turkish on Upgate – The Istanbul. Totally brilliant food. Everyone should come to Louth – one of the lovliest places on earth.

  • Anonymous

    That should be an Olympic sport, running three miles uphill, with half a cwt on your back. Never mind about spinning greek discuses and things. Hammer? what is that all about? – too scottish for me….. : )

  • Anonymous

    Here’s Naomi’s homepage, a reason why I still watch kiddies telly, practising my dirty old man bit, leering, as she dances, it is almost porn…. well, to me it is,

  • Anonymous

    Think my daughter has my darkness, chip off the old block, not bad for such a young age. And all the youngters around there are all well into The Cure from Crawley, even if they are old hat – ones from district there, Horsham, Reigate and Redhill, the local legends from there in Slurrey. Good song here from them, class ridden darkness type vid,

  • Dave Simons

     Yes I’ve got absolutely no doubt that Michele shells shea sells by the shea sore – er, was that right?

  • Mel

    Who says we are in a minority, Alistair? You’ve done some research? I expect you think everyone likes football too because you, yourself, are likely to associate with people who do. I posted this in th Graun cif-

    You can’t be against the Olympics without some redneck screaming at you that ‘You hate your country! You hate God!’
    Well I hate the Olympics with it’s pure unbridled nationalism, the mock-warfare of it, the mock competitiveness of it where amateur athletes from poor countries are pitched alongside millionaire pampered professionals with their designer drugs, sponsorships and personal trainers. Fair contest is rare and comes down to, in the end, who has the biggest training budget and who is the biggest freak. Add to this the fact that the whole event is hijacked by Big-Corp some of which is palpably evil and evidently run by morons, and you have a luscious cocktail of all that’s shallow and pointless.
    I want it to go away and never come back, ever, anywhere.343 people recommended it – that figure is not significant in itself but it hints at something you might well consider. I don’t want Britain to be embarrassed but I’m not with you on the Olympics bun fight thing.

  • ambrosian

     Further to my previous comments, a ComRes poll today has 41% looking forward to the Olympics and 45% not looking forward to them.
    30% say they are dreading the Olympics, a much higher figure than I would have expected. The overkill of coverage, not least by the BBC, will probably have antagonised even more people before it’s over.

  • Dave Simons

     It’s ‘The Travellers’, 14 – 17 August. Sorry – Upgate, not Eastgate. The comedian, John Shuttleworth (formerly Jilted John and born Graham Fellows) must agree with you about Louth. He lives there I think. Yes if you’re not away on holiday with the family it would be good to see you again (after Lincoln in March). This will be my third visit to Louth. Will certainly try the Turkish.

  • Anonymous

    down by the sea, where the red roses are, an old folk song.

  • Anonymous

    Ok, an old celtic folk song, sung all over Britain, once upon a time, pre Roman and post, and during. They liked it bing sung, on their moasaic tiled floors, back in the day. Celto-Romano Brit  part of the Empire was well respected, visions of life complemented.

    Again, lost in that history, as that oxbridge norman historians bought keep telling us.

    As we sang it to them, more or less,

    yeh, ok roman, my dad won’t mind me shagging you, because he says you are alright. From North Africa are you?…. deary me, I can see you are…, oh dear, here goes me…

  • reaguns

    Oh right, I am of much the same opinion. All sports apart from football were invented for people who couldn’t play football. In particular they were invented so that middle class people could feel they can play sport, because obviously in the most competitive sport in the world football, by sheer number of people playing it, middle class people get nowhere.

    I like boxing and a few other things too like motorsport, snooker etc and I respect the athletes in any sport, but I don’t pretend that a majority of people like any sport apart from football.

  • Anonymous

    Anyone that bothers here, here is more Carrin O’Neill, going to a gig in north Wales, from Ireland – she used to dance in Bollywood films when she was in India when young, honest, no bullshit. Quite a girl, been around….

    Truelly sweet girl.

  • Anonymous

    Alastair, brilliant accent on the chief postmaster at the start here,ey? Some say an old lost accent of La France, but who am I to know? I have noticed accents being warered down naturallia with the internet and communication explosion in the last fifteen years.

    The number of people from various places that I can some sort of way communicate with on youtubby, these days, is totally astounding.

  • Anonymous

    Under twenty-fives, especially, round my way, well less ooo-arrr in a welsh way, I have noticed, and also english other places.

    The tinternet, see.

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