Since 2014, the IOC has embarked on a comprehensive visioning exercise framed as Agenda 2020 (see IOC, 2014). A commitment within this exercise is to rethink the role of culture in the Olympic Games hosting process and overcome the programmes traditional marginalisation. This is in line with the expanding debate over the need for ‘legacy’, sustainability and a ‘360 degree’ Olympic management experience (IOC, 2009, p. 27), a term that refers to the IOCs ambition to better integrate all Games programming dimensions and ensure that the sporting competitions are rooted within each of the Olympic cities where they take place.
These aspirations may have important implications for the future of the Cultural Olympiad. First, this approach has impacted on the Candidate City bidding guidelines, discouraging the traditional relegation of‘cultural programming’to a separate chapter in the bid proposal, to make it, instead, a core dimension of the Olympic city and spectators experience that is presented within the introductory sections to the bid. While the effects of such change are still to be seen, this suggests a push for organisers to think more creatively about ways to embed their cultural proposals within the Olympic Games hosting process rather than treat them as a separate programme of activity.
Further, in 2014, the IOC established the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage with staff working on a dedicated cultural strategy and policy framework to guide in the delivery of programming that contributes to the development of a distinct Olympic narrative. This team is looking into options to ensure that Games branding and media relations guidelines are better attuned to the needs of the cultural programme.
Beyond the possibility for clearer and more strategic regulations from an IOC perspective, host cities have also become more effective and strategic in their profiling of culture around the Games hosting process. Be it as a political, economic, social or broader cultural objective, local organisers have become well aware of the importance of contextualising the Games as a global mega-event within a distinct and meaningful cultural programme in order to secure a sustainable legacy. This suggests that the role and relevance of future Cultural Olympiads will keep growing, and the demand for greater clarity and effectiveness in their delivery framework will also expand. Olympic cities may come to prominence through the opportunity to host 16 days of international elite sport competitions, but they tend to be best remembered (and differentiated, from one to the next) by their ability to showcase unique skylines, public spaces and approaches to celebration that are sensitive to their specific heritage and diverse community values, as well as engaged with emerging and globally relevant creative practices.
Figure 36.1 Visual representation of 'Olympic experience' components
Source: Adapted from IOC (2008); Author's emphasis
1 Analysis conducted by the author over documentation stored at the Olympic Museum — Olympic Studies Centre relating to every Olympic official cultural programme between Helsinki 1952 and Atlanta 1996, plus Cultural Olympiad materials and observations collated during fieldwork visits to Olympic Summer and Winter host cities from Sydney 2000 to Sochi 2014.
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