The Foreign Affairs Committee has today published a Report on Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Public Diplomacy: The Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012.
The FCO's otherwise creative campaign to enhance the UK's reputation at the 2012 Games lacks one overarching message, says today's report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
Chairman of the Committee, Richard Ottaway MP, said:
"Experience seems to show that too many national messages at events such as this tend to muddy the waters. We should refer back to our original bid, that London is an open and welcoming city, and that the UK is a diverse, inclusive and friendly country. Or, in a word, that both London and the UK are generous."
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.
The FCO wants to exploit the public diplomacy and 'soft power' potential of the Games as a tool that its global network of Posts can use to help open doors and gain influence with key individuals and groups in specific countries, in pursuit of the UK’s interests.
The report reviews other countries' experience of using major sporting events for public diplomacy purposes. It notes that the Games offer an unparalleled opportunity to promote UK business, trade and inward investment.
The FCO has stated commitment to seizing this opportunity but the Committee recommends going further and holding a major trade event close to or during the Games. Chairman of the Committee, Richard Ottaway MP, said,
"London 2012 will be a 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. A simultaneous trade event, held at a suitable and accessible venue, would secure the maximum commercial benefit to the national economy."
The Committee says the FCO should make more of the claim that the 2012 Games will be "the world’s first sustainable Games", publicising around the world the many examples of environmental good practice in the planning and building of the event.
It should continue to use the Games to "promote British culture and values at home and abroad", and to support projects targeted at promoting British values to particular overseas audiences.
The FCO's budget cannot 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.
The Committee is worried that cuts may result in the FCO's work related to the Olympics becoming a matter solely of individual initiatives by embassies and High Commissions, without adequate central co-ordination.
The Games 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.
The Committee recommends that the FCO should form a 'rapid response unit', set up well before the Games, which can rebut or challenge negative stories appearing in the world media. Such a unit can draw on a wealth of experience from other recent host countries of major sporting events, notably Australia with the 2000 Sydney Olympics and Germany with the 2006 World Cup.