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

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We conclude that 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. We note the academic research which 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, we think 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"—and later in this Report we consider the danger that, if things go wrong, the Games could actually have an adverse effect on that reputation. (Paragraph 41)

2.  Nonetheless, 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 are particularly impressed by the 'International Inspirations' programme, jointly organised by the FCO with UK Sport and the British Council, which aims to bring the benefits of sport to 12 million children in 20 countries. We recommend that the FCO should give high prominence to this programme in its public diplomacy work. (Paragraph 42)

3.  We are concerned, however, that the overall message conveyed by the FCO's campaign is somewhat bland and ill-defined. We recommend that 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—that both London and the UK are, in a word, generous. Such a message would also help to redress some long-standing misperceptions of the UK. (Paragraph 43)

4.  We conclude that, although it would be unrealistic to expect the FCO's budget to remain unscathed at a time of economic stringency and public spending cuts, nonetheless it is important that the Department's public diplomacy work in connection with the Olympics should be regarded, during the crucial 18 months leading up to the Games, as being a priority area. We are concerned that the decision to cut public diplomacy funding may result in the FCO's work related to the Olympics becoming a matter solely of individual initiatives by Posts, without adequate central co-ordination. We recommend that the FCO should keep this situation under review, and stand ready to restore some degree of central funding if it becomes apparent that it would be desirable and cost-effective to do so within the wider context of the FCO's pre-Games public diplomacy strategy. (Paragraph 48)

5.  We conclude that the FCO is right to use the Games to "promote British culture and values at home and abroad", and that it should continue to target specific overseas audiences to whom it is important to communicate the message that British society is based upon the ideals of tolerance, diversity, respect for human rights, and freedom of speech and religion. (Paragraph 51)

6.  We welcome the unequivocal assurance by the Government that the long-standing rights of free expression and freedom to protest peacefully in the UK will not be suspended because of the Olympic Games. We recommend that the Government, both in the run-up to the Games and during the Games themselves, should firmly resist any pressure that may be applied by certain foreign governments to curtail the rights of freedom of expression and freedom to protest peacefully in the UK. (Paragraph 54)

7.  The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games offers 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, to secure the maximum commercial benefit to the national economy from this once-in-a-lifetime event when the eyes of the world will be on the UK and unprecedented numbers of VIP guests will be arriving on these shores. We further recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should give a detailed update on its plans to promote trade and investment in conjunction with the Games. (Paragraph 64)

8.  We note the Ministerial assurances that there has been no change of policy over emphasising the extent to which the 2012 Games will be the 'greenest' ever. We conclude that the UK can be proud of what has been achieved on the Olympics site in terms of promoting environmental good practice. We commend the FCO for commissioning the excellent documentary film, Going for Green, and recommend that by means of this film and in other ways it should continue to promote the 'green agenda' vigorously. We further recommend that "the promotion of environmental good practice" should be added to the FCO's list of formal objectives for its public diplomacy work in connection with the Games. (Paragraph 68)

9.  We conclude that the 2012 Olympics pose potential reputational risks as well as opportunities for the UK. The FCO is not the lead Department in contingency planning for organisational, transport or security problems during the Games, but it will have a responsibility for seeking to influence overseas perceptions of any problems that arise. We recommend that the FCO should make sure that, acting in concert with its Olympics public diplomacy partners, there is a 'rapid response unit' adequately resourced and prepared to take swift action to rebut or challenge negative stories appearing in the world media. We further recommend that this unit should be up and running significantly in advance of the start of the Games, that it should engage in intensive preparatory scenario-modelling, and that it should draw on the experience of successful media strategies by other recent host countries of major sporting events, notably Australia with the 2000 Sydney Olympics and Germany with the 2006 World Cup. (Paragraph 75)

10.  We recommend that the FCO should instruct its Posts not only to promote the 2012 Games as "the London Games" but also, where appropriate, as an event hosted by the entire UK and its component nations and regions. (Paragraph 79)

11.  We note that in 2012 the world's media will be paying special attention to the UK not only because of the Olympic Games but also because of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. We conclude that there is no reason why this double cause for celebration should in any way send out conflicting images of the UK. (Paragraph 84)

12.  We recommend that in promoting both the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the FCO should not attempt to mix together the messages of two quite separate events, but should promote each in its own distinctive way. (Paragraph 84)

13.  We recommend that the promotion of the 2012 Games should include recognition of London's status as the only city ever to have hosted the Games three times. We further recommend that, where possible and appropriate, surviving athletes from the 1948 Games should be invited to participate in the Olympic ceremonies and in events held to mark the Games, including those organised by overseas Posts. (Paragraph 85)

14.  We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government should state what actions it proposes to take to work towards international implementation of the United Nations 'Olympic Truce', as part of its commitment to international peace-keeping and conflict prevention. (Paragraph 88)

15.  We will continue to monitor the FCO's public diplomacy work related to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We recommend that the FCO should supply us with regular (three-monthly) detailed written updates on that work during the run-up to the Games. (Paragraph 89)

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