As the Games draw to a close, we take a look at some of the winners and losers.
“… from where I stand, I think we’re set for a really remarkable few weeks for Britain, when we welcome the world, say this is a great country to come to, enjoy the Olympics, but also think of all the other things we’ve got to offer.”
So said the Prime Minister just over two weeks ago, and so it has turned out.
Those of us who were unable to get tickets have been able to participate in spirit (if we wished), and our thanks go out to:
the athletes who delivered some great performances,
the spectators who helped to create great sporting events,
the volunteers who welcomed the world,
Transport for London who brought all three together, and confounded predictions of gridlock on the roads and a melt-down of public transport,
the UK construction industry who delivered the venues (more about them later),
the broadcasters who brought the Games into our homes (more about them later too),
and of course the organisers who ensured it all came together over the past two weeks.
The bid in 2005 to bring the Games to London included a promise to inspire a generation. There have certainly been many inspirational moments during the Games, and young people have many new role models to motivate and uplift them. What is more, the measures used in sport are the same measures used in teaching at school and in college, linking the inspirational world of sport to the sometimes-less-than-inspirational world of learning.
In our article on 27 July, we referred to the venues, delivered on time and within budget and 100% metric. Our view now we have seen them in action is – Wow! What an advert for Britain’s design and construction skills in the two hundred or so metric countries around the world receiving video feeds of the Games. A sell-out for beach volleyball on Horse Guards Parade – who would have believed it?
The BBC took its video from Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and made no attempt to disguise the fact that the measures used in the Games are metric. Comments on previous Metric Views articles have drawn attention to occasional slip-ups, but the overwhelming impression has been that metric rules. “Think metric. Don’t convert” has generally been the principle. This over two TV channels, two extra Freeview channels, twenty four live channels, Radio 5, Five Live Olympics Extra and replay on line, covering thirty four different venues. The first real time media games.
This has made all of us in the UK potential winners. We have to earn our living in a metric world, and few who have viewed Games coverage can have been left in any doubt that imperial measures have had their day. We have also witnessed great sport.
So Metric Views’ nominations for winners are:
our younger generation,
the UK construction industry,
and us – the Great British public.
These must include those who spent many hours on-line in unsuccessful attempts to obtain tickets, and also the reputation of the company that provided the ticketing software.
Our last article discussed metric myths and their demise. One myth is that the metric system has been imposed on the UK by Brussels. And on two hundred other countries competing in the Games, only 26 of which are in the EU? Surely not. Nor does being metric seem to have affected the performance of Team GB, now third in the medals table. How ironic too that Andy Murray lost at Wimbledon in June, when speeds were measured in mph, but won in August when these switched to km/h.
The reaction of the Permanent Secretary at the UK Department for Transport (DfT) when seeing service speeds at Wimbledon in metric would have been interesting to observe. Perhaps his coffee ended up in his lap. The DfT has, of course, maintained for forty years that road traffic signs can survive in an ever-shrinking bubble of imperial measures, while the country and most of the rest of world continues with the metric changeover. But the DfT is not entirely to blame. During “Question Time” on BBC1 on 23 February 2006, politicians of all parties scrambled over each other to rubbish the idea that Britain should bring its road traffic signs into line with its neighbours. Now saturation coverage of the Games has brought metric measures into almost every home – if this were a public information campaign it would be worth almost as much as any reasonable estimate of the cost of changing the UK’s road traffic signs. No wonder the DfT has taken a very low profile during the Games.
Philip Hammond, former Secretary of State for Transport, may also be regretting the remarks he made in June 2010 in connection with a proposal for dual height signage of over-bridges to reduce damage from vehicle collisions. He said:
“It’s bad enough that Labour were hell bent on replacing feet and inches with metres.”
Fortunately, Mr Hammond was not involved with the decision to bid to bring the 2012 Games to London.
We have already nominated the BBC as a winner. What about America’s NBC, which also took video feeds from OBS? It is rumoured that NBC paid $4.38 billion (yes billion) for the rights to broadcast the Games in the USA. In an effort to recover its outlay, NBC has danced to the advertisers’ tunes. It used metric for description but not for measurement. Thus it referred to Bolt’s 100 metres sprint, but to Rutherford’s long jump of 27 feet 3 inches. But America too must adapt to earn its living in a metric world, and NBC has wasted an opportunity to familiarise the American public with metric measures and to introduce them to the realities of international measurement. So we nominate the American public to the list of losers from the Games, even though the USA tops the medal table.
So Metric Views’ nominations for losers from the Games are:
those caught up in an unsuccessful quest for tickets,
anyone who hopes to benefit from metric myths,
the UK Department for Transport and its former Secretary of State Philip Hammond,
and the American public.