Great expectations… but it’s the taking part that counts and we can all take part
At the 2008 Beijing OIympics GB exceeded expectations by finishing 4th in the medal table, just ahead of Germany. According to Ipsos MORI research conducted for UK Sport ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games the majority of the general public felt that Team GB would do at least as well as in Beijing – with 2 in 5 expecting Great Britain to actually finish higher in the medal table. Given the top 3 nations in 2008 (China, US and Russia) all have populations more than twice the size of ours and GB finished a long way behind 3rd placed Russia (with 47 medals to their 73), this is a tall order – even taking into account the much talked about ‘home advantage’.
It’s no wonder Team GB athletes feel under a lot of pressure to deliver. As a sportswoman myself (I play hockey), I’m aware that there are no guarantees in sport. You have good days and bad, and with world-class competitors, even the favourites may have the odds stacked against them. Arguably it was the GB cycling team’s great form that contributed to its failure to win a medal in the men’s road race, as it meant other nations’ riders weren’t willing to cooperate with them.
So why do we expect so much of our elite sportsmen and women? I’d suggest that the public’s expectations of Team GB were based less on a calculated appraisal of how they expected the team to perform and more on their own excitement in the run up to the Games. Just ahead of the Olympic Games we found that 7 in 10 Brits thought that the Olympic Games would boost the mood of the nation and 6 in 10 thought it would create a heightened sense of Britishness (a second ‘jubilee’?). (For more Ipsos MORI research on ’Britishness’ click here.)
Despite Team GB’s slow start there’s little doubt in my mind that the Games have made us all feel a bit chirpier, less self-deprecating and certainly friendlier. I took my family to watch the Cycling Road Race as it was passing through my home town of Woking. As we cycled to the course along the tow path, we found ourselves among an impromptu public peloton. It was an incredible experience with everyone in great spirits – I’ve never said ‘hello’ or ‘good day’ to as many strangers before! Even on the way home (despite the disappointing result) everyone was in a jovial mood.
Our research also shows tha three-quarters of us believe Olympic athletes are good role models for children. I’m delighted that my children are watching the amazing achievements of our best sportsmen and women – and would rather they were inspired by athletes than sought to imitate most other celebrities! Having watched events unfold on TV over the last few days, my 2 year old can’t wait for her next trip to the swimming pool and my 4 year old has persuaded me to sign her up for gymnastics classes. For my family, the games already have a legacy.
So whilst we’re cheering on Team GB and wishing them well, perhaps it’s the process of cheering, tweeting, and having something to get excited about (amongst all the doom and gloom of a double-dip recession and record rainfall) that’s actually making us happy. It really is the taking part that counts!
Claire Emes, Head of Trends & Insight, Ipsos MORI. Follow me on twitter: @c_emes