Lord Sebastian Coe and Paul Docherty with youth in Athens
As the 2012 Olympic Games finally kick off, British Council Director UK 2012 Paul Docherty looks back on the highlights so far from this year’s exciting Cultural Olympiad.
I always enjoy that moment at the end of a journey, as a train pulls into a station or a plane moves slowly onto its stand, as it gives me a brief chance for reflection. You’ve reached your destination, and there are a final few minutes of relaxation before you move up a few gears and head on to the next phase.
I feel a bit like that now. The Opening Ceremony of the 30th Olympic Games is upon us, and the sporting action begins in earnest tomorrow. It is a good moment to consider the journey so far before we move on to the next stage.
For us in the British Council, most of our work around the Olympic and Paralympic Games has been connected to the Cultural Olympiad and the educational aspects of the long run-up to the sporting competition.”
When London bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2005, we made a number of pledges that we felt would enrich the experience of the Games and make them unforgettable. Of course, we said we would organise a fabulous programme for the Games and everything looks set to deliver that.
But we also said that we would revitalise the Cultural Olympiad to celebrate artistic excellence and achievement in a truly international and inclusive way, and we undertook to create a lasting cultural legacy in addition to the usual infrastructure and sporting projects.
Our educational initiatives have been successful in reaching out to young people around the world and strengthening mutual respect for each others’ cultures. Our flagship project International Inspiration, the official sport legacy programme, has become the benchmark for future Olympic hosts who have ambitions to inspire young people through the power of sport. We reached our target of involving 12 million young people in 20 countries some time ago.
Overall, the Cultural Olympiad has already reached more than 6.7 million people across the country, and its finale, the London 2012 Festival, has exceeded expectations with more than 25,000 artists from all 204 competing Olympic nations taking part in 12,000 events and performances at 900 venues all over the UK.
It is hard to pick out highlights from such a vast programme, but for me, the British Council collaborations with China and Brazil for Big Dance, our involvement in BT River of Music and our commissions for Unlimited – the UK’s largest programme celebrating arts, culture and sport by disabled and deaf people – stand out.
So, as the crew announces ‘doors to manual,’ I stir myself for the next stage. I’m off to watch the opening ceremony on a big screen in Hyde Park, and after that, it will be back to making sure that our programme continues to deliver the promises made in 2005.