FCO Public Diplomacy: The Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


The 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games is likely to be a 'once in a generation' opportunity for the UK to attract the attention and interest of the entire global community. The FCO wants to exploit the public diplomacy and 'soft power' potential of the Games as a tool that its global network of Posts can use to help open doors and gain influence with key individuals and groups in specific countries, in pursuit of the UK's interests.

We welcome the many inventive proposals that the FCO has put forward for capitalising on the Games in its public diplomacy work. Many specific initiatives sponsored through its world-wide network of Posts display range, imagination and sensitivity. We encourage the FCO to continue with this campaign, and to give special emphasis to the excellent 'International Inspirations' programme. The FCO should spread the news that the 2012 Games will be "the world's first sustainable Games", with many examples of environmental good practice in the planning of the Games and at the Olympics site. It should continue to use the Games to "promote British culture and values at home and abroad", and to support projects targeted at promoting British values to particular overseas audiences.

The Games offer an unparalleled opportunity to promote UK business, trade and inward investment. We note the FCO's stated commitment to seizing this opportunity. We conclude that it is important that the action matches the rhetoric. We recommend that, in addition to the activities already being planned, the Government should give urgent consideration to holding a trade event during the period before or during the Games, at a suitably large and accessible venue.

The Games offer the prospect of enhancing the UK's reputation in the world. Academic research shows that national reputations, especially of countries like the UK which are long-established actors on the world stage, tend to alter only gradually and in response to long-term trends. That being so, the FCO may be somewhat overstating the case when it claims that the Games will have "a profound impact on the UK's international reputation". Despite the many commendable specific initiatives, we are concerned that the overall message conveyed by the FCO's campaign is somewhat ill-defined. The campaign should focus on sending out one overarching message. That message should be the one successfully deployed in the UK's original Olympics bid, that London is an open and welcoming city, and that the UK is a diverse, inclusive and friendly country—in a word, that both London and the UK are generous. Such a message would help to redress some long-standing misperceptions of the UK.

The 2012 Olympics pose potential reputational risks as well as opportunities for the UK. The FCO should prepare itself to take swift action to rebut or challenge negative stories appearing in the world media.

The FCO's public diplomacy work in connection with the Olympics should be regarded as a priority area. We note the shift to "no or low cost ways of doing business" following the emergency budget of June 2010. The FCO should keep the resourcing of this work under review, and should stand ready to restore some degree of central funding if it becomes apparent that it would be desirable and cost-effective to do so.

The Games should be promoted not only as "the London Games" but also, where appropriate, as an event hosted by the entire UK.

We have sought from the Government, and received, an assurance that the long-standing rights of freedom of expression and freedom to protest peacefully in the UK will not be suspended because of the Olympic Games.

We have considered other issues including the relationship, in promotional terms, between the Games and the 2012 Diamond Jubilee, and the possibility of the FCO taking action to work towards international implementation of the United Nations' 'Olympic Truce'.

We will continue to scrutinise the FCO's public diplomacy work in the run-up to the Games.

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Prepared 6 February 2011