Viewing entries tagged
Olympic Games

Athlete 365

Athlete 365

A few years ago, I developed a course for Olympic athletes, as part of the International Olympic Committee learning initiative. I’m delighted to say that I’ll be developing a new version of this, which will feature all things digital. As a teaser, check out this Dos and Donts list for using social media as an athlete.

Sport 2.0 @ #MeCCSA2018

Sport 2.0 @ #MeCCSA2018

This month, i had the pleasure to give a keynote at the MeCCSA conference in London. As the UK subject association for Media, Communication and Cultural Studies, it was a real pleasure to be amongst peers I have known for well over a decade and a personal honour to have this opportunity. I focused on the way in which Sport 2.0 tells us a story about media change which has applicability well beyond the sports discipline. 

This work takes me next to PyeongChang in February, where I will cover the Olympic Winter Games, my 5th one! Keep an eye on this platform for short blog pieces and wider coverage.


Here's a bit of an overview of the manuscript for the talk....

Sport 2.0


It’s a real pleasure to be here at MeCCSA some 15 years or so after my first MeCCSA conference. And I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect a little on the intersection of disciplines that operate around this diverse subject community.

I have the dubious privilege of working across a number of subjects and, depending on the day, have my expertise described in quite various ways.


In fact, last year, I found myself giving public talks on drones, fake news, genetic enhancement, social media, Google Glass, and eSports, over just the month of November


But over the years, the connecting theme has been our technological culture and I have always focused on emerging technologies, writing about the digital alongside biotechnology from an early stage.


I have always been interested in the moment when technology becomes available and where new cultures of use emerge, curious about how our day to day lives are affected as a result.


I mention these details because they speak directly to the emergence of my own creative space within the conduct of my research, which has a bearing on the theme of this talk, Sport 2.0 – itself a title which speaks of a digital transition, drawing on the idea of Web 2.0 or Humanity 2.0, as Steve Fuller used it.


But, to put this further into context, next month my research takes me to PyeongChang for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, at which I will spend my time embedded within the media structures around the Games. Even here, there is an interesting story to tell I think, in terms of the complexity of how we, as academic researchers interface with the media communities we study.


But the origins of this work begin with a story like this from a couple of days ago


SHOW: BBC North Korea to Olympics screenshot


Way back when, I was taken with the idea that events - mega sports events in particular -  become moments for cultural and political discourse and perhaps even social change. At the very least, they are imbued with these expectations and, indeed, the principal industries around them covet such importance.


And here we have, at a time of presumed instability of North and South relations, the possibility that the Olympic Games will help ease these relationships, which may have major geopolitical consequences.


We see this kind of expectation operate around many other recent Olympic Games, where organizations position themselves and their values around the event to put across some crucial social message, as we saw with Beijing 2008, nearly 8 years ago in this Amnesty campaign.


SHOW: Beijing Amnesty campaign


And the media artefacts created around these programmes of work fascinate me intellectually. The imagery here along is deeply provocative and disruptive in a context where all imagery associated with this proprietary event is controlled.


And yet they are also spaces of multifaceted resistances. I recall how, in the lead up to the Beijing Games – China’s first Olympics as host -its aspiration to use the slogan


“New Beijing, New Olympics” was ultimately quashed, in favour of “New Beijing, Fresh Olympics”,


The story goes that the International Olympic Committee deemed that host cities are not there to change the Olympics, but to simply be its temporary custodian.


And often, technology is a thread within these discussions. In fact, every Olympic Summer Games over the last century has involved the pioneering of some new form of media technology, whether it is underwater film making, or virtual reality.



SHOW: Pool Cam


Back in London 2012, one big success was Pool Cam – underwater cameras in the swimming venues, that then had their own Twitter accounts and which were tweeting images during the competitions. Within 2 days of its launch, over 21,000 followers to the account.


Here we have examples of media innovation and media change – how to photograph the games differently – which itself is a consequence of saturated and democratized media. The professionals having to think more creatively, but with the added nuance of these being automated photographers – another theme emerging within this territory – the handing over of creative decision making to artificially intelligent systems.


So, sports as innovation spaces for the media is a core theme here and it makes sense when you consider the economic infrastructure of large scale programmes like the Olympic Games, where billions of pounds in sponsorship and rights holder money are tied up in the system and where those organizations that fund its staging seek to leverage the 16 days of competition to increase their market share through exposure.


We see this at every Olympic Games, especially over the last 20 years with each subsequent Olympic Games claiming to have transcended the previous achievements of the last, especially technological terms. For Beijing 2008, the organizers even created a building designed to look like a bar code, as a key flagship infrastructure, central to one of its core themes: Digital Olympics.


SHOW Beijing Digital building


And in many respects, this is an easy win - more people consumed the Olympics on social media than the previous Games, because there are more people using more social media.


SHOW: image of the intel site


This year, in advance of the Korean Games, we see a huge step in the direction of eSports, as Intel – a primary Olympic sponsor – hosts a major event a week before the Games begin, at a time where discussions are afoot to include eSport in the Olympic programme, which is partly why the backdrop to this prezi is a photograph of an eSport event – the World Champs from 2015, also in Korea.


Already then, we have a number of questions to ask of this terrain, which are pertinent to the expansion of our field


·      How are the sports and creative industries being reconfigured through digital change?

·      How does technology operate as currency within the staging of mega events?

·      How do we observe change within the media industries through such activity?


And through this talk, I want to outline how my research and practice have interwoven over the years, developing in part an ethnographic style of media research, and eventually how this moves into speculative ethnography, an idea which is particularly challenging to articulate, but which I think is crucial to our present times, which are characterised by the Kickstarter economy, an ever increasing part of our consumer culture, itself intimately connected to our pursuit of the future. I found myself writing about this a lot in a Nesta project on drones where, back in 2014, nearly every month a new Kickstarter drone was released, many of which never, dare I say, took off.


 Many of these ideas borrow also from work with the Designer Interactions team at the RCA, for which I guest lectured over 10 years and where the central proposition involved designing for the future in a way that invited critical interrogation.


My most often cited example from this is the design of a telephone tooth implant which two colleagues developed and I want to play you an interview with them about it, if only to show how their mischievous exploits in exploiting the media’s fascination for technology was used as a way of starting a conversation about the direction of mobile technology.


SHOW: Telephone tooth input


And here in one design is an indication of where media technology may take us, throwing up all kinds of complex ethical, cultural, and social questions.


And as the future shows us its teeth, we begin to glimpse this brave new media world


SHOW: Cicret Bracelet


Over its course, there is a research story here that describes the development of theory, practice, and of the crucial role of collaboration with the media industries, or which tries to weave together the theme of this conference on creativity and agency, as a lot of my research has involved utilizing creativity as a means through which to assert agency within an industry community and to utilize that opportunity to explore technological and cultural trends within the media.


So, I have done things like given social media training to Olympic athletes. Another role I have is as the future media mentor for the Young Reporters programme of the International Olympic Committee, which takes 35 young people around the world to the Games to learn how to report from them.


So where does sport come into all of this? It is my contention that we obtain critical insights into media change by studying sport and that, especially as this interfaces with emerging technology, we gain an insight into how technology changes societies and individuals. And so, this is also a talk that foregrounds the expansion of our field into new territories, which have yet to benefit from a research community around them. And I will go on to say more about this in the final part of this talk


To this end, I urge you to think of this not as a talk about sport at all, but of the media technology ecosystem that operates around it. I want to offer an indication of where I think this takes us as researchers and tie it back to some critical commentaries on what this means for us more generally about our diverse field.


SHOW: Screenshot of chapter and book


While the MIT book is a more in-depth overview of many of these thoughts,  further insights about this can be found in a recently published Afterword for a book on Digital Qualitative Research in Sport and Physical Activity, itself a good example of how expansive media research has become.



Yet, my entry into this field is also a story about the interconnections between research theory and practice.


Back in year 2000, I was working on a range of ethical issues related to sports technology and found myself brought into the fold of Olympic research.


This took me eventually to Sydney for the Olympic Games there, at which I learned of a place called the Non-Accredited Media Centre, set up in the bustling Darling Harbour, a prime city destination, way more integrated with the city than the Official Olympic Media Centre.


When arriving into Sydney, I went along to the Media centre and presented my case for their accrediting me as one of their reporters. At the time, I was a phd student and with very few media credentials. But I had a website and I had published a few things.  And let’s face it, back then websites were radical. Sydney was only the second summer games to have one.


SHOW: Sydney 2000 website


So I showed them my website and that seemed to be sufficient for them to accredit me giving me a fancy pass which got me access to all number of things, everything except the sport in fact.


A big part of the early years of this work then saw me fascinated by the Olympics for everything other than sport. Thousands of reporters would come to the Games just to cover what happened around the cultural, political and social side and, at the same time, it was becoming apparent that the reporters who went to this kind of centre would be those typically working in an online capacity. In many respects these were outsiders to the Olympic world, but it was far more complicated still. In fact, some major media providers who had more staff than official accreditations would put their staff into this facility.


And here we see another intersection – between place marketing, event hosting, and new cultures of journalism. Very soon after Sydney, it became apparent that a core feature of such reporting was the rise of the online journalist around sports, which grew into a focus on citizen journalism. Many of the reporters accredited by the city to cover the games were people looking for that kind of story and by the time we get to Athens, the non-accredited media centre has become the politically most important venue at the Games from a non-sporting perspective, hosting all kinds of important events – in part because the access restrictions in the main Olympic venues made this prohibitive.


So, here I am trying to infiltrate this world of new Olympic journalism, while also trying to understand what was taking place around this new sports media complex.




In part to occupy this space more comfortably, I co-developed a platform that fitted the brief of the research aspirations, an online media outlet called Culture @ the Olympics, which would frame every application to subsequent Olympic Games to become accredited as non-sports media – media that the host city and region sought to engage to tell their story.


Now, there were two parallel tracks of digital change emerging at this point – 2004 – the time when we see the term Web 2.0 emerge to describe a shift in what the web could do. The first is the growing digitalization of the sports media and the second is the rise of citizen journalists who sought to occupy the privilege space of the professional media and disrupt its structures and narratives on the Games.


The two clashed around the time of Beijing as it became apparent that the expansion of who could be media meant that the exclusivity of that status could undermine the previously privileged exclusivity afforded to the media.


So for the remainder of this talk I want to whizz you through these points of intersection, which provide a glimpse into the complexity of the Sport 2.0 world and which hopefully will stimulate you to think differently about this field and where it is going in the future.


And to do that, we start here: 3 trends, all of which intersect in this world

-       Mobile Health

-       Mixed Reality

-       Gamification


What’s Next

-       eSports

-       Wearables

-       Ingestibles

-       Implants

-       Internet of things

-       Artificial Intelligence


And so, to conclude, I want to frame Sport 2.0 as an intersection of various media cultures the analysis of which requires taking into account their complexity. Examining sport tells us a great deal about where the media have come and where they are heading and this is why all studies of the media need to take on board how they work around the complex world of the sports industries.


Thank you.





Sarajevo 1984, 33 years later

Today marks the 33 years since the Opening Ceremony of the Sarajevo 1984 Olympic Winter Games and so I dedicated my afternoon to capturing some of its history. The most remarkable location is the Bob Sled track, which was built in concrete and survives to this day. It remains now as a living monument to the Games, although for the locals, it feels also like a forgotten place.

Draped in overgrown foliage and graffiti, I learned that it has become a popular place to come walking and, while the snow was too deep to walk its length today, I had the chance to see a few of its turns.

It's hard to know how to place this as an Olympic legacy. It has become a tourist attraction, that much is clear. Yet, it does not resonate with conventional legacy language. After all, it has become a line of desire, rather than a purposeful sports facility. However, I think it is all the richer for this, and there is something truly authentic about it, as a manifestation of cultural heritage, re-worked by the local community.

Clearly, the 1990s war broke continuity for the city, in terms of many things, but also that Olympic legacy. The cable car running from the city to the mountain venue was lost - but is being re-built I am told. Also, many Olympic buildings were destroyed. So, there is something also compelling about the robustness of this unusually permanent concrete bob sled run. So, I am comfortable with talking about this monument as a feature of Sarajevo's Olympic legacy. Like the most effective legacies, they have to arise from a process of re-negotiation, re-ownership, and be sites of active value creation for a community. This area enjoys each of these features and, for this reason, i'm sure it will continue to be of historical significance and worthy of protection. And if that wasn't enough, you can also mountain bike down the run, which has to be completely awesome!

My trip here has been all the richer for venturing out to see this amazing site and I hope you will agree that there is a beauty to this Olympic heritage, even if it was not the one intended when it was imagined.

Draped in overgrown foliage and graffiti, I learned that it has become a popular place to come walking and, while the snow was too deep to walk its length today, I had the chance to see a few of its turns.

It's hard to know how to place this as an Olympic legacy. It has become a tourist attraction, that much is clear. But it does not resonate with conventional legacy language. After all, it has become a line of desire rather than a purposeful sports facility. Yet, I think it is all the richer for this, and there is something truly authentic about it, as a manifestation of cultural heritage, re-worked by the local community. 

Clearly, the 1990s war broke continuity for the city, in terms of many things, but also that Olympic legacy. The cable car running from the city to the mountain venue was lost - but is being re-built I am told. Also, many Olympic buildings were destroyed. So, there is something also compelling about the robustness of this unusually permanent concrete bob sled run.  

My trip here has been all the richer for venturing out to see this amazing site and I hope you will agree that there is a beauty to this Olympic heritage, even if it was not the one intended when it was imagined.

The Photographers of Rio 206

The Photographers of Rio 206

New article out with The Conversation, focuses on the amazing community of photographers at the Games. Here it is...

Incredible images from Rio 2016, as photographers rise to meet social media challenges

Andy Miah, University of Salford

More than 1,500 of the world’s best photographers flocked to Rio for the Olympic Games, capturing inspiring and surprising images of the world’s biggest sporting event. From Reuters to National Geographic, the games draw professional photographers of all stripes – not just ones that cover sport.

Mario Tama (mariotama), Getty Images photographer. Currently based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by way of New York City.

Everyone’s a pro

But with the rise of digital and mobile photography, capturing the landmark moments of the Olympics is a much harder gig today than it used to be. Countless people inside the venues have their own high-quality cameras – and what they don’t manage to capture, they can find online from someone else in the audience, simply by following a hashtag on Twitter or Instagram.

This army of amateurs – which includes the athletes themselves – can even publish their photographs online without worrying about getting in trouble from the International Olympic Committee – provided they don’t use the images for commercial purposes.

Jessica Ennis-Hill (jessicaennishill) takes a selfie with Usain Bolt.

Getting creative

As a result, today’s professional photographers have to be more creative and more innovative than their predecessors. They have to develop a unique sense of what makes a photograph historically important. And even then, there’s a chance that someone will have the same idea; remember that iconic photograph of Usain Bolt smiling over his shoulder during the 100 metre heat? Well, there are actually two of these.

Cameron Spencer (cjspencois), Sydney based Getty Images staff photographer.

High tech

So, to set themselves apart from the crowd, professional photographers are having to use technology more creatively. There are some remarkable gadgets on show at Rio; from cameras which can go in the water and fly through the air, to rigs which can take 360° footage.

Bob Martin (bubblesontour), photographer and grandfather.

Working for free

Photographers are also having to share more of their work for free, in the hope that this exposure will help them to secure new commissions. Platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Flickr are key destinations for photographers to showcase their latest snaps.

Gary Hershorn (garyhershorn), NYC based photographer and photo editor. Former Reuters, now contributing to SilverHub Media and Getty Images.

Maintaining control

The challenge here is that controlling one’s images online is not so easy, as people repost, copy, and distribute often without seeking permission, paying royalties, or even attributing properly. One of the leading photo agencies, Getty, dealt with this recently by allowing people to use a certain number of photos online for free, using a simple embed code, which links the image back to their website.

Adam Pretty (adampretty).

Going mainstream

Newspapers still want to illustrate their front pages with the iconic image of any given sports event: the photo that everyone expects to see. New platforms attract millions of users, with reports already indicating that most social traffic comes from the photo and video sharing platform Instagram. Social media also creates a simple way of measuring images' popularity through “likes” or “favourites”. So the mainstream media has good cause to sit up and pay attention.

Fun social media stories are also a big hit at the games, as was true of US athlete Ben Kanute, who staged his own opening ceremony, when he couldn’t make the official one.

Mark Reis (mark.reis).

Avant garde artists

With the rise of citizen generated media, the photographer’s future may be in jeopardy: Instagram likes don’t always pay the bills. But challenges like these are often a catalyst for major shifts in how avant garde artists make new work. Consider Gerald Andel – one of the first Olympic Artists in Residence – who is using Twitter’s six-second video app Vine to make unusual work.

A new age

Photography is no exception and to get a glimpse of this transformation in the sports genre, take a look at the work of these extraordinary artists whose work may prove to be indicative of sport photography’s new golden age, where photographers have now become videographers, animators, and much more.

Nick Didlick Nikon Ambassador, professional photographer/videographer and digital imaging pioneer. Exploring and loving the intensely visual world we live in.

Donald Miralle (donaldmiralle), Photographer, Waterman, Husband, Father.“

David Burnett (davidburnettfoto), freelance photographer for National Geographic.

David Ramos (davidramosgetty) staff photographer with Getty Images in Barcelona.

Lucy Nicholson (lucynic) Reuters senior staff photographer. Born in London; based in LA, covering news, sport and features.

Jed Jacobsohn (jedjacobsohn).

Anthony Edgar (anthonyedgar888).

Al Bello (albello55), Sports photographer at Getty Images”

Christophe Simon (christophesimonafp).

John Lehmann (johnlehmann), staff photojournalist with the Globe and Mail based in Vancouver, Canada.

The Conversation

Andy Miah, Chair in Science Communication & Future Media, University of Salford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How will the Olympic Channel change television?

How will the Olympic Channel change television?

Over the last year, I've been following the IOC Agenda 2020 recommendation actions around creating an Olympic Channel, which launches on 21st August, straight after the closing ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Here's the article I wrote about it for The Conversation.


New Olympic Channel will change the way we watch sport forever – here's how

Andy Miah, University of Salford

As the Rio 2016 games draw to an end, the Olympic Channel begins its life. Following its launch at the closing ceremony of the games, the channel will completely change how we consume television in the future. This new digital platform will operate 24/7 to fill the gap in between games with local, national, and international sporting events. The Olympic Channel is a world first in broadcast history, and may be the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) most strategic move for a decade.

As things stand, the Olympic movement is almost entirely financed by the exclusive sale of broadcast rights. About 74% of the IOC’s total income is derived from this source; the largest chunk of which comes from American broadcaster NBC. For years, critics have said that this leaves the Olympic Games very much in the pockets of television executives – so much so that events are reportedly rescheduled to suit television audiences, rather than athletes.

Yet we live now in a digital era, and television has changed dramatically since the IOC started these contractual arrangements in the 1980s. Today, television sits alongside social media, as more broadcasters produce content for platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.

Twitter is making deals to livestream full Olympic matches within its platform, and the IOC even has its own YouTube channel, which it has been using as an archive of Olympic footage since Beijing 2008. It recently started to upload full match episodes from previous games, which are gathering the lion’s share of the channel’s views.

With such developments proceeding apace, the future of television is uncertain; which makes NBC’s recent decision to pay an unprecedented amount for the US rights to the Olympics until 2032 a significant gamble. By this time, televisions will just be screens onto which we push content from our mobiles. The IOC knows that the days of the television as an operating system are over – and its new Olympic Channel reflects this.

Olympics every day?

It might seem odd to have an Olympic Channel when the games are not on, but in fact it could well offer users a service they didn’t know they needed: that is, a way of connecting with the athletes they care about, in between the games. The channel also wants to own the hyper-local sports experience, which is currently under-resourced by most international and national sports federations. It wants people to log in and follow their sport, and it wants local clubs to broadcast their events.

The channel will start off as a facility to fill the gap between the games. But it won’t make sense to ask followers to tune out once the Olympics begin simply to satisfy broadcasters who have paid to cover them. Instead, it’s likely that those broadcasters will use the platform, and become a big part of it going forward.

Who’s got better tunes, Usain Bolt or Mo Farah? from

The channel also has third-party integration, to make the most of the mobile experience. You can follow Spotify playlists by your favourite athletes, so that you can train to the same music. You can share your data and track your progress using Samsung’s S Health application (Samsung is an Olympic partner). And you can play interactive games during sports events, so that you don’t switch off from the content and spread your attention elsewhere.

The long game

The IOC is playing the long game, and their initiative could become the Facebook of the sports world. Once the platform has a loyal following, the IOC will be able to monetise this in unimaginable ways – perhaps it could even renegotiate its relationship with television broadcasters and sell advertising directly. But it’s likely that some crucial deals will be struck before this situation arises.

For now, the channel will deliver exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage of the games, which will extend viewer interests well past the closing ceremony and into the next Olympic cycle. For a long time, the IOC has emphasised that it is not a content creator for the Olympic Games. But while the channel is not yet covering the games, the fact that it comes out of the Olympic Broadcasting Services (the organisation which shoots all the sport content at the Olympics) means that there will be increasing overlaps between the two.

The challenge will be to ensure that this adds value to the broadcast offer – rather than detracts from it – so that the IOC remains affluent. That said, if the Olympic Channel can run its own advertising and sponsor campaigns, then it can cut out the television middle-man and do exactly what social media does today.

For a century, the Olympic Games have been a litmus test for media change, with slow motion replay, 3D television and virtual reality all being pioneered at the games. This year, organisers have boasted about how Rio 2016 is the first games to be consumed on mobile first and televisions second. Looking at the state of the media today – where companies like CNN are showing a median viewer age of 61 – it’s hard to see much future for television, as we presently know it. But one thing’s for sure – you’ll still be able to watch the Olympics.

The Conversation

Andy Miah, Chair in Science Communication & Future Media, University of Salford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sport's Digital Revolution

Sport's Digital Revolution

My second talk in South Africa allowed me to reprise my forthcoming book for MIT Press on eSports - and all things digital about sport. It was a lot of fun, especially going across the breadth of subjects that come together. There are so many ways in which the future of sports are digitally constituted and this one covered some key trajectories...


The Olympic Movement and New Media (2014)

The Olympic Movement and New Media (2014)


This week, a new book of mine was published by the Russian International Olympic University. Co-authored with Alexander Zolotarev and Prof Lev Belousov, the book is published in Russian and covers such areas as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the Sochi 2014 context, and how the International Olympic Committee is re-orientating itself around new and social media.

Being Gay at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games (2014)

Being Gay at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games (2014)


Piece published in the Huffington Post:


In recent months, there has been a lot of talk about Russian law and homosexuality. Much of it has centered on international outrage at a change in legislation which, for many countries, would be a return to a very dark and depressing era in humanity's history, where non-heterosexual lifestyles were seen as something to hide or feel ashamed about.

Some political leaders are not attending the Sochi 2014 Olympics, it is thought, because of these anxieties about human rights. Yet, the time for debate is now over. As the Games begin, the only question remaining is what will happen to an athlete if they do anything to express their sexuality while at the Games.

The IOC's position on political manifestation at the Games is pretty unambiguous: the Games are apolitical and any action to politicize the Games is likely to be met with disciplinary action by the athlete's National Olympic Committee. This happened in 1968 when Smith and Carlos each raised a black gloves fist on the podium on behalf of African-American civil rights. They were subsequently removed from the team.

Sochi's equivalent to Mexico 1968 is sexuality and the IOC would prefer that athletes just focused on their competition. I have some sympathy for the IOC, which, all along, explains itself as essentially the guardians of a multi-sport mega event, and that the issues around belief systems is not within their purview. It is not realistic to expect the IOC to make a significant intervention in long-term domestic law, beyond what is required to logistically deliver the Games.

Yet, over the years the IOC has nurtured an identity that has made more central its contribution to advancing society in crucial ways and this is actually part of what Coubertin dreamed of when setting up the modern Olympics. For example, the IOC has built close relationships with the United Nations on a range of issues, such as creating global peace and environmental concern. In this sense, it has become a powerful advocacy organization, the value of which is born out of its response to and action around important global concerns.

Furthermore, it is hard to understand how sexual identity should be construed as a political manner, rather than a fundamental human right that the IOC should support. After all, the Olympic Charter compels its members to support non-discrimination. To this end, support for sexual freedom is more adequately understood as a condition of membership to the Olympic movement, not a political choice. Being the host of an Olympic Games should make these commitments even more necessary to uphold.

The IOC's only defence is found in the difference between a fundamental freedom and the advocacy of this freedom in public fora, the latter of which is what authorities seek to avoid. This may be the only way that the IOC can justify its stance. In any case, the IOC should guarantee that GLBT athletes will not face action for taking a stand at the Sochi Olympics. This would be an important message to send the world and the only way that these can really be great Games for everybody and avoid being labelled in history as the homophobic Games.

As the Google doodle today states in its rainbow colours, quoting the Olympic Charter:

The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Social Media Evaluation (2013)

London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Social Media Evaluation (2013)

Miah, A. (2013) London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Social Media Data Analysis, Institute of Cultural Capital.  

The top findings are:

  • The #London2012festival Twitter hashtag was a gateway for over 500 cultural
  • organizationsto promote themselves during 2012.
  • The key drivers of London 2012 Festival social media activity were LOCOG Twitter
  • accounts (organization and individual).
  • Some of the smallest arts organizations(in terms of social media presence) in the UK
  • produced some of the largest amount of social media traffic eg. Lakes Alive.
  • Ruth Mackenzie was the second-most mentioned individual on #London2012Festival,
  • after Yoko Ono, demonstrating the value of personalized leadership in social media
  • relations.
  • Across the social media assets, @London2012Fest reached the same degree of influence
  • as Arts Council England (each had 66 Klout1
  • score) and exceeded them in terms of
  • absolute followers (over 42,000, which was more than Jonnie Peacock’s Twitter account
  • by the end of the Paralympic Games.
  • The @London2012Fest twitter account was the largest Cultural Olympiad brand on
  • social media.
  • The primary London 2012 Twitter assets (eg. @London2012 or @SebCoe) worked well for
  • London 2012 Festival in advance of the Games, but were not optimally sharing content
  • for Festival during the Games.
  • Collectively, projects associated with London 2012 Festival created new communities of
  • arts audiences, though Festival was not always visually ortextually associated with the
  • project.
  • Outdoor, mass spectacle events were the most successful in terms of social media traffic.
  • With the exception of the Guardian, traditional media did not do very much to promote
  • London 2012 Festival through social media.
  • The @London2012Fest twitter account was the second most followed LOCOG identity,
  • after @London2012, exceeding the follower count of both mascots.

The Olympic Games and Creative Activism

The Olympic Games and Creative Activism


Today's talk at the British Library seemed to go down well. Some very nice people came and bought books and said how much they enjoyed it. It was my first proper post-London 2012 Games talk, focused more on looking forward (and back) to other creative expressions at the Games than London specifically. However, other talks reminded me that now is the key time for UK Olympic experts to 'sell their knowledge' about the London Model. I'll give that some thought.

I wrote a manuscript for the talk on the train down to London. It's a bit rough, but a good overview of most of what I covered and is preceded by the slides for the day.

The Olympic Games and Creative Activism

By Professor Andy Miah

When considering how the Olympic Games responds to issues of social change, there are a series of established subject areas, many of which form the basis of recently implemented ‘legacy’ programmes. Thus, Games organizers will highlight the importance of sustainability, both as an agenda for a city and a series of targets for the organization of the Games.

Alternatively, making a difference or impact is seen as an increasingly necessary aspect of any publicly funded scheme or event. In some cases, the difference may be something with a long term, almost intangible legacy, such as is described by the London 2012 slogan ‘inspire a generation’, while others are more immediate and neatly defined, such as the number of people who participated in new experiences around the Cultural Olympiad. Yet, even in these areas, there are disputes over which evidence counts and problems over the capture of evidence at all.

These efforts to ensure positive and lasting social change are centrally overseen and managed by the organizing committee and city stakeholders. In this respect, an agenda for social change around the Games is often an inherent aspiration of Games developers, even if critics argue that they often fail to deliver. And they do often fail to deliver.

Thus, we know that that social change occurs around such Olympic hosting dimensions as housing policies, security, liberty, economy. Inclusion, participation, consumption, health. These indicators are often contested, but the subject matters are recognized by all as important to measure and understand.

Yet, I want to argue that a further indicator of social change and a crucial mechanism by which change takes place is through creative interventions. It is through the work of creative professionals and amateurs where often we witness the levers for social change or, more accurately, the indicators for what else may require monitoring around the Olympic Games hosting process.

However, this is not a talk just about the value of art within political society. Rather, creativity may be seen as a political economy that surrounds the Games. It encompasses moments when Chinese artist Ai Weiwei withdraws his association with the Beijing 2008 Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium, or Mia Farrow’s ‘Genocide Olympics’ campaign.

I want to take you on a journey through the last 10 years of creative activism around the Olympic Games, which I hope will convey the potential they have to draw attention to important social issues that can serve as a basis for a more socially responsible mega-event hosting process.

Let’s start with a small competition: You have here images of the Olympic mascots – and one or two Paralympic mascots – but which of them is the odd one out? You could be forgiven for thinking it is this one, the one eyed alien from London 2012, forged by a drop of steel from the company whose steel was used within the Olympic stadium. However, it is his companion from Sochi who doesn’t fit here. Zoich or Z014 as he is known is an alternative Olympic mascot, put forward by artist Egor Zhgun.

Back in 2010, the Sochi 2014 OCOG created a public competition, driven by an online campaign, inviting suggestions for the mascot of their Games. Zhgun’s effort was one of the most popular choices, but it was meant as a work of satire. Our interpretations of this contribution may be read on numerous levels. Online, people asked questions about its association with a character from the Futurama series, while others asked why it had no hands. Did this say something political about the entire Olympic process, where something is also hidden behind the back of the organizers?

It was the latest artistic intervention within the Olympic programme, which stretched the limits of Olympic organizers’ commitment to democratic principles, while also drawing attention to the absurdity of the mascot contests and the mascots themselves. Why do Olympic Games have mascots? What is their function?

While their design intends to speak to the Olympic values of respect, excellence, and fair play, their value corresponds with what some would argue to be the more truthful Olympic values – money, money, money.

As for many artists and designers, Zhgun has left a lot to people’s imaginations when interpreting what it aims to say about Russia and the Olympics. Other creative professionals have responded to the Games in different ways and the last 12 years of Olympic creative initiatives portray a diverse cultural history of raising awareness about important social issues that may form a basis for social change.

Let’s go all the way back to Sydney 2000 – in fact, just a year or so before. The ABC television company (not rights holding) produced a ground breaking series called ‘The Games’, written and starring some of Australia’s leading satirical comedians. Its mockumentary format portrayed the office of a fictional Organizing Committee for the Sydney 2000 Games. The scripts showed the team encountering a series of amusing, sometimes bizarre occurrences, such as the Olympic 100m track being built to only 96m, or the pursuit of silent tobacco sponsors, whose financial commitment would require employees of the organization to take up smoking and make sure they were seen publicly doing so. Yet it was an episode in the second series that secured its place in history as achieving more than just comedy. Known as ‘the apology’, the episode created a story line that responded to a key political issue surrounding both the politics of the Sydney 2000 Games and Australian civic society when it staged an apology to aboriginal communities. After months of controversy over the location of the Olympic park in homebush bay, a site of symbolic importance for local aboriginal communities, requests for the Australian Prime Minister to apologize to aboriginals and end decades of social exclusion were prominent, but one was never forthcoming. Instead, The Games made this happen. Here’s the clip.

Two years later, as Mitt Romney prepares for the Salt Lake Games, having waded through the IOC corruption scandals and the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York, which would change the Olympic Games ever since, the Olympic Opening Ceremony became the next example of where this form of social change is made visible within the Olympics. Organizers wanted the tattered flag from Ground Zero to have a presence in the ceremony, but the IOC considered this to be a political symbol, which had no place in the Olympic programme. A compromise was found and the flag appeared in a section designated as a ‘cultural section’. Here again the flexibility of culture allows certain messages to be written into history, where protocol prohibits.

In 2004, the Athens legacy was being shaped by their tardiness in finishing the venues. Yet, aside from just not being ready for sports, the hurriedness of their completions was considered to be at the expense of safety. 23 people died in the construction of the venues and this quiet demonstration in Syntagma square highlighted this problem. The seriousness of this was juxtaposed against the pre-show within the stadium that spectators saws before the ceremony feed went global. Here it is. I was told by someone in the stadium that it began with a spotlight on one section of the stadium, where a construction worker was hammering in a final nail. ‘We’re ready’ were the words to conclude this section. At this point, most Greek citizens – and certainly those within the stadium – will have suspended the anxieties about their Games, which had dominated the global headlines in recent months, as they sat back and enjoyed the show. Athens was ready.

Two years later, the Torino 2006 Games became the first where a total city occupation of Olympic sponsors occurred. The host city contract obliging the city to prevent ambush marketing meant that billboards were either filled with Olympic sponsors or were left blank. In Athens many were blank, in Torino, all were filled with sponsors, as the city became an Olympic Disneyland, suspending other financial obligations and individual freedoms for one month. In response, there was a rise of street art, graffiti, which became the billboards for creative activists. This image with the slogan ‘Repression Lives here’ responded to the ‘Passion Lives Here’ official slogan for the Games, drawing attention to the problems of Piemonte society.

Beijing 2008 was perhaps the most politically complicated since Seoul 1988. The world’s media arrived into China only to find the Great Chinese Firewall had not been lifted on the internet, requiring the IOC to intervene. Yet, it had also established temporary legislation for foreign journalists working in China, which provided more freedoms to report. Yet, Beijing’s Games were doomed to be the subject of creative activism from the moment they won. The focus on international criticisms about their human rights record brought together a range of creative activists, alongside interventions from agencies which employed creative professionals to visualize their anxieties. This set of images leaked onto the web portrayed an alternative Olympic sport poster campaign, in the name of Amnesty. It is not clear how they were leaked or why they were not used eventually, but they became part of Beijing’s tapestry.

The Vancouver 2010 Games were discussed by many as the first social media Olympics and, as a city, their creative media community is world leading. It is perhaps no surprise then that digital innovation formed a large part of the creative interventions around the Games. In fact, a feature length film was created about this, documenting how new media became a vehicle for social change within the city.

As we approach London, the expectations for creative activism were high from the start. Numerous campaigns were launched attacking the Games organization. Within the cultural sector, attacks against BP as a Premier Presenting Partner were led by artists, staging guerilla style theatrical inteventions atBP sponsored events. As well, a campaign called ‘Fucking the future’, responding to BP’s ‘Fuelling the Future’ Olympic campaign involved defacing BP Olympic billboards with oil. The Deep Water Horizon disaster earlier in the year increased the pressure on orgnaizesr to consider the Olympic relationship, leading to a spoof website depicting - in a similar way to Sydney’s apology – the dissolution of their relationship. London’s previous year of summer rioting, along with the Occupy movement’s global presence, also became a context for creative interventions around the city. The London tent city occupation began to resemble Vancouver’s Olympic Tent City, set up for homeless people who had been negatively affected – or simiply not helped – by the city’s housing policies leading up to the Games.

Besides the alternative mascot campaign, Sochi has also found itself to creative activism around the Circassian Genocide campaign, which argues the Games are being held in an area that ought to be preserved because of the killing that took place. During the London 2012 Games, campaigners from Sochi joined a march, in London, while also Vancouver’s ‘Poverty Torch Relay’ came to the city, reminding people of the ongoing problems associated with and exacerbated by distracions such as the Olympics.

So, where does this leave us. Our event looks to Rio from London. Well, already, there is creative collaboration, which may be seen as a vehicle for positive social change. London 2012 is taking an exhibition to Rio. During the Games, the ‘Rio Occupation London’ project was a showcase for Rio’s cultural and creativity identity, beyond carnival and other more singular motifs.

If there is one message I think may be derived from all of these examples, it is that a history of the Olympic and social change written through them may provide a sound basis for understanding what is possible around a sporting mega-event, but ensuring that they are possible requires enabling a creative fringe and XX> If you visit arts festivals around the world, you quickly become aware of art’s role in revealing matters of pressing social importance. However, creativity is not just a messenger, but provides a new models for thinking about and organizing the world around us.

As Rio’s organizing committee begin to plan their efforts to make a difference to Rio via the Games, they should be mindful of how social change occurs, how it interfaces with creativity and culture, how radical designs require radical models of organization, and how attempts to create engaging cultural programmes should be balanced with attempts to let culture do its work without being managed. Some of the most accomplished works of the London 2012 programme – and of Olympic history – arise within organizations other than the OCOG. This is why I think the creative community cannot walk away from the Games, leave it to the sports fans, and disassociate themselves from it. The Olympics are so disruptive that everyone is implicated within their organization.

When an athlete stands on a podium, raising a black glove in support of civil rights, the capacity of the Olympics to generate powerful moments that ‘inspire a generation’ is made apparent. Any athlete that does this will be removed from the Olympic programme, but will be revered by historians.

Rio has it harder than most. As the first South American Games, it may foreground this transnational context within its creative activism. Their Games may also be said to have significance beyond Brazil’s borders.

Just 2 months after London, my seventh Olympic Games – Winter and Summer – and the one that I have been closest to, many people are asking questions about whether the Games brought about positive social change. Perhaps in cities like London, the scope to change is different from places like Rio. Yet, what holds me to this research agenda is how, despite the vast amount of criticism surrounding the Games leading up to it – an established pattern – people I know have been transformed by those 4 weeks of sport. This happens from one Games to the next. It is known. Documented. Evidenced. When people see the Olympic flame, they are overwhelmed. Holding the Olympic flame becomes a defining moment in someone’s life. Consider the young woman whose sightless father was destined to carry the flame, only to pass away on the year leading up to it. As a tribute, she ran with his torch in the 2012 relay, blindfolding herself in dedication to her father. These stories are powerful, moving, and are able to co-exist with the hyper-commercialism and corporate structures that this young woman may have encountered when passing the torch to a sponsor executive whose life is what allows him or her to have the same privilege.

In sum, it is the Olympics capacity to stage rituals, ceremonies, and symbolically important experiences – like the Queen making her first acting appearance, and in a Bond film – that makes it robust to activism, political resistance, and opposition. It is the marshaling of all global media power that secures its positive legacy at times when it matters. Furthermore, it is the seemingly limitless public budget it commands that makes it too big to fail.

Yet, what it really needs to deliver Coubertin’s vision is an organized, global, creative community. Something to rival the Sports Federations, which are the true organizers of the Olympic Games. Without an organized structure around cultural matters, social change is unlikely to have a lasting legacy. Without a commitment to the Olympic movement beyond delivering the Games, they will be left to act as political boosterism for the intellectual elite and passive participation for the masses. And this really won’t do.

Watching the Hashtags

Watching the Hashtags


This month, I have an article published in The Walkley magazine, an insiders magazine for Australia and New Zealand media. The edition arrived in the post today and it's a really nice publication with a whole section on the Olympics. I learned a lot from reading it. Rod Savage and Toni Hetherington from News Limited write about delivering their Games across 'five screens', when talk of a 'second screen' focused people's attention for years earlier on the approach to Beijing. I'll let you try to guess which are the five screens. Karen Barlow from ABC also proclaims that social media brought us together, noting Twitter's role as a story source. My article considers the lasting changes to the Games, resulting from how it was delivered via social media during London 2012, focusing largely on how social media stories became part of the news cycle within main stream press.


From London 2012 to Rio 2016 #Olympics

From London 2012 to Rio 2016 #Olympics


I'm delighted to be giving a keynote at this @BritishLibrary event on 5th Nov. It's especially nice to focus on Rio 2016, just after the London 2012 Games, and to speak to a broad brief , rather than just one topic. Social change is certainly one thing any host city can take for granted in their hosting process. The challenge is to ensure positive social change happens and this is a much disputed outcome of the Olympics, no matter how many medals a home team wins.

In the mean time, here's the programme:

From London to Rio: Social Change and the Sporting Mega-event




Welcome and Introduction to the Conference Jude England, The British Library


Keynote Lecture Prof. Kenneth Maxwell, Harvard University


Panel: Politics and Security Are the games a means to implement government policies? Will the events become focal points for international and local political conflicts? Do the events serve as a catalyst for developments in cyber security and surveillance?


Dr. Timothy Power, Oxford University

Dr. Jeff Garmany, King’s College London

Gabriel Silvestre, University College London

Chair: TBD


Coffee Break


Panel: Economic Impact What impact do these events have on economic development and growth? What is the impact of these events on employment and labour unions? What is the impact of these events on small business and the informal market? How is the housing stock and housing market effected by such events?


Prof. Jane Wills, Queen Mary, University of London Dr. Mike Raco, University College London Prof. Tom Cannon, University of Liverpool

Chair: TBD

12.30-13.15 Lunch Break


Mid-day key note lecture: Prof. Andy Miah, University of the West of Scotland


Panel: Sustainability: Social and Environmental Will the games improve most people’s quality of life? What kind of long term infrastructure developments will happen? How will renewable energies and design be incorporated into these events? Speakers: Dr. Stephen Essex, Plymouth University

Dr. Russell Seymour, Sustainability Manager for Marylebone Cricket Club

Chair: Dr. Alvaro Comin, King’s College London


Coffee Break


Race, Media and Identity What kind of racial imagery and ideology do the games reproduce/challenge? Are their different impacts of the games along racial and gender lines? What kind of coverage does the media produce about the games and why?

Speakers: Prof. João Costa Vargas, University of Texas, Austin

Prof. Renato Emerson dos Santos, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro Prof. John Horne, University of Central Lancashire

Chair: Dr. Elizabeth Cooper, The British Library


Education Will the games contribute to public health agendas? Do they further the cause of sports education/participation? Speakers: Paul Docherty, Director UK 2012, British Council

Prof. Steve Cummins, Queen Mary, University of London Luke Downdey and Marigold Ride, Fight for Peace/Luta Pela Paz

Chair: Dr. Madeleine Hatfield, Royal Geographical Society (with IGB)


Closing Remarks Jude England, The British Library



Are the Olympic Games Good for humanity?

Are the Olympic Games Good for humanity?


Just before the London 2012 Games began, I gave a talk for South Place Ethical Society, whose Wikipedia entry says it is 'the oldest surviving freethought organisation in the world, and is the only remaining Ethical society in the United Kingdom'. Now the Games are over, people will most likely have a wider perspective on this question. One person in my talk thought I was terribly negative about the Games, which is kind of ironic. Nevertheless, I wanted to champion their capacity to create tensions as a reason for judging them positively. Their worth is born out of their being inherently contested processes and this value goes far beyond the feelings of national pride attached to medal wins.

Future Sport

Talk given at the Royal College of Art for their Design Interactions programme.

Emoto 2012

During the London 2012 Olympic Games, I was working with an arts based digital project called Emoto, which was an artist-led data visualization of the Games using Twitter. The project was developed by Future Everything using Lexalytics. Here is a video of the final sculpture of the tweets, which brought an additional creative layer to the content.

Social Media Week Glasgow

Social Media Week Glasgow


On 25th Sept, I'll be giving a talk at the Glasgow Science Centre as part of Social Media Week Glasgow. The talk focuses on the London 2012 Olympic Games, dubbed as the 'first social media olympics' by organizers. I'll be scrutinizing the legitimacy of this claim, the way that the Games are a lens into media change, and giving the low down on just what happened in social media terms over the Games. The Olympics have always been a space for media experimentation and London was no exception. The event is FREE and starts at 730pm. For more information, click/tap here

"Made in Britain" The London 2012 Games

Last night, the London 2012 Games drew to a close with the Paralympic Games Closing Ceremony. Seb Coe's speech stamped a message on the Games that captured the audience's imagination and will be the defining message of the Olympic & Paralympic Games "London 2012: Made in Britain"  I was lucky enough to be in the stadium for the Closing Ceremony and it was second only to the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in imagination and power. A great closing night! For more photos, click here.