For two weeks this summer, London was the centre of the sporting world. The London 2012 Olympics took over the city, replacing the usual conversations about weather with talk about the events, the medals table and their own experience of being at the games. Unfortunately last week the Olympics came to an end and we will now have to wait another four years before we can support our national teams in the summer games again. The wait will be worth it though as we will next be headed to colourful Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio will be different in many ways. There will be new athletes leading the way in their respective sports while others will no longer be participating. The whole environment, from the venues to the infrastructure and systems, will also be completely different. Looking at Rio’s preparation to date for the 2016 Olympics, it’s not as prepared as London was at this stage but the organisers have four years to make sure it all works and the excellent model of London to look to for inspiration.
Looking ahead to the 2016 Olympics in Rio from a cultural perspective, the next summer games will be incomparable to London 2012. Not only will the overall cultural feel and style of the Olympics be different, but the organisation and overall approach will be quite distinct. Athletes, volunteers and spectators will therefore encounter a completely different range of cultural issues during these two weeks that they may not have in London so anyone involved will require a high level of cross-cultural awareness – something you can never start developing early enough!
Queuing for Tickets
Edward T. Hall, one of the founding fathers of intercultural communication, developed a number of concepts which have become paramount in any discussion about cultural differences. According to Hall, there are several ways in which cultures can differ from each other. One of these is the relationship people have to the physical space around them, in other words, what people tend to consider an appropriate space between each other in a given situation. People in Brazil tend to stand much closer to strangers than people from the UK do, so queuing for tickets in Rio could be a completely different experience for most.
Hall also found that concepts of time can differ between people from different cultural backgrounds, so the way people use and manage time can vary dramatically from one culture to another. People from polychronic cultures, like Brazilians, tend to have a flexible approach to time and do multiple activities at once for example. People from monochronic cultures, conversely, such as the British, prefer a more structured approach to doing things and appreciate punctuality.
The British, monochronic perspective is evident in the general organisation and planning of the Olympic games. The Brits had very precise plans and strict deadlines that they worked towards in order to have everything ready in time. As Rio prepares for the next summer games, they could end up missing important deadlines and timescales if they approach things with their typical flexible approach to time. Although they have a more laid back approach to time, Brazilians are extremely creative and tend to be very good at re-prioritising things so that the desired outcomes are still achieved. Rio 2016 will surely end up being a spectacular Olympics, but they may end up getting their through a very different approach.
Ready, Set, Go…
The British monochronic approach to time was also visible during the London 2012 Olympics in the punctual start and finish times that they adhered to throughout the games. Most events started exactly at the stated time, and you could even hear spectators counting down the seconds. Spectators also adhered to the British approach to time and arrived to each event ahead of time as instructed to allow enough time for everyone to get settled before the start. This is one aspect which may be very different during the Olympics in Rio, as Brazilians have a much more fluid and flexible approach to time.
If you think the Olympics in Rio won’t be as punctual as London 2012, you might be right. But you’re wrong if you think it won’t be as much fun! Brazilians are known for their hospitality, openness and colourful and rhythmic events such as the Carnival of Rio. The London 2012 Olympics were a beautiful celebration of cultural diversity across the UK and the events and ceremonies reflected this in a very typical British way. The 2016 Olympics in Rio are likely to be even more colourful, festive and diverse if they are anything like other famous celebrations in Brazil.
Looking at the two Olympic cities from a cultural perspective, it’s possible that the perception of space and time could create significant differences in the way that the next Olympics are planned, organised and managed. Some will question whether Rio will be ready in time to welcome the world, while others may expect an even better party. No matter what happens, anyone involved in the next Olympics needs a great cross-cultural awareness if they want to benefit from the many opportunities the games can bring.
With four years to go until Rio proves itself the extremely hospitable, diverse and open city that it is, there is plenty of time to ensure those involved have the right support to develop the intercultural awareness that will make the next summer Olympics an event to remember!
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2012