Public spirit triumphed at Games; Vancouver 2010 was a success, but wasn't without shortcomings, U.K. officials say

By Stanley Tromp, The Vancouver Sun. Jan. 3, 2011


Volunteers at the 2010 Olympic Games were underfed, the Games' colour scheme was "pale and too complex," and drivers became lost due to poor signage.

Yet the free Robson Square live sites were "a huge success," the security plan worked well, and the passionate Vancouver public spirit triumphed over the obstacles.

These were the candid observations of British officials from the U.K. Department for Culture, Media and Sport who visited the Vancouver Games to provide lessons for planners of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

The memos were obtained for The Vancouver Sun from the U.K. Department for Culture, Media and Sport using the British freedom of information law. The department said the authors' views do not express the government's official position, and that the memos were not vetted for accuracy.

Despite the overall success of the 2010 Games, the British also noted some "challenges/issues." These were mainly focused on four areas: transportation, marketing, signage and volunteers.

Regarding transportation, the British officials wrote that links between the airport and the city, and the city and venues weren't always managed properly, leading to problems with VIPs.

"Some VIPs came by charter to other domestic terminals -- no services provided. Volunteers at airport had no language skills," the memos said.

The Brits noted that some bus drivers were uncooperative with Vanoc officials, but did not specify whether these were TransLink drivers or those contracted for the Olympics.

Drivers recruited for the Olympics lacked radios and maps, causing them to become lost, the memos also said.

While good transportation infrastructure was already in place, the authors of the memos said the 2010 Gamers organizers cut corners on the quality of buses used, which led to delays.

However, they said the city successfully overcame initial criticism of many transportation arrangements, including long lineups up and down Cypress Mountain, the freestyle skiing and snowboarding venue.

Moreover, the SeaBus ferry service between the North Shore and downtown was deemed "a huge success" -- running frequently and punctually.

Regarding merchandise and marketing, the British said the Vancouver Olympics logo was not prevalent and was difficult to spot. Sponsors were generally out of the public eye, and tended not to give out free merchandise.

They also felt there was too little countrywide participation in the Games, with marketing efforts concentrated in B.C.

Some Brits noted shortages of Olympics merchandise, especially the ubiquitous red mittens. Others disagreed, saying the red mittens campaign was "a great success."

Considering the 2010 Olympic look and brand, they said the colour scheme was "pale and too complex." They also said there was no coordination of street dressing or signage, which could have reflected the brand, and that there was "very little Paralympic merchandising."

The British also noted "big issues with size, location and quality of signs." They said signage around the city and information about events were insufficient, causing traffic problems for drivers.

They said the signage was designed by locals, without international visitors in mind. "International spectators [were] not very well catered for," with the assumption that they "knew where they were going."

The volunteers were well-liked by the British -- described as "very personable and loyal"-- who also noted a decent effort on Vanoc's part to help its employees find jobs after the Games.

However, during the Games, they felt the volunteers were "not adequately looked after (only one meal a day, few warm areas, 'last to know' about Games results, some had long commute)."

The report noted other quandaries with the Vancouver Games volunteer program:

- The International Olympic Committee said there were too many volunteers at venues, sometimes with no clear purpose.

- There were too few volunteers in the city outside the venues, and spectators were expected to know where they were going.

The British authors also spoke to several key Games officials, and reported on several concerns raised by Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "Vanoc had underestimated costs and realized it once it started purchasing goods," without specifying which costs.

Several other concerns were noted throughout the reports:

- Live sites were generally successful, however some had health and safety problems due to overcrowding.

- They criticized the media's "own country bias" and the focus on Canadian athletes and spectators.

- They noted varying standards of accessibility, finding some areas very well designed for those with disabilities while others, including new buildings, lacked adequate facilities.

- VIP transport management was not well managed, which delayed the opening of the Paralympic Games.

Yet the British officials also noted many positive aspects of the Games.

For instance, the volunteers and Vanoc staff were very friendly -"they came over very relaxed, but in control."

"The security regime in place was not obtrusive and looked low key, but despite that appeared effective."

Their key piece of advice to London 2012 organizers?

"Ensure the city and people embrace the Games. If we can go some way to creating the same passion within London and throughout the U.K. as was witnessed in Vancouver, the Games will be a resounding and memorable success."