On Friday, veteran broadcaster Brian Williams, CTV's "face of the Games" stated that in all the Olympics he had covered, he's never seen a city embrace the Olympics like Vancouver has. Yesterday, after a short tour of Holland's Heineken House I interviewed with Freek de Wette, Heineken's international sports sponsorship coordinator and director of the house. Heineken House is a premier destination at each Olympics, usually voted the "best pavilion" at each Games. Freek (pronounced 'frake') has been organizing Heineken House going back as far as Barcelona 1992, and according to him, Vancouver has been the most successful Games in terms of exciting the interest of local residents.
"In Athens, they were literally asking residents to take a vacation and leave the city," says de Wette. "In Beijing you didn't see as many people from the city celebrating. I know, because I've been to a lot of Olympics, there's no comparison with what's happening here in Vancouver."
In de Wette's mind the answer was clear. The 2010 Games gave those who didn't hold tickets for events something to do. What made the difference, is when people started to realize that there was so much to do. For FREE, that is.
Back in December, we predicted that the only way that Vancouver's Games would truly be deemed a success would be if Vancouverites and others in the region embraced the spirit. In my December 19th column for 24 Hours Newspaper I wrote:
Perhaps the best way that we get good value for our investment is to partake of the dozens of free events being staged during the Games. Think of the message we'd send to the world when thousands of us show up to celebrate in our own cities.
Indeed, to that point the widely held viewpoint was that "unless you've got a Vancouver Club membership and drive a Range Rover, the Olympics are out of your reach."
For weeks, my colleague Daniel Fontaine and I have put every spare moment into promoting the free activities, doing countless interviews with both local, national and international media. With their help, and yours, the message that everyone should get out and enjoy the free stuff was widely circulated. And when the line-ups got too long, people still wanted just to get out and feel the joy of celebrating with others.
It's been incredibly exciting to see this happen, and I think the world is getting that message I hoped for.
So what's next? Certainly beginning next week things will begin to feel considerably less exciting. The adrenaline will begin to wear off, and the public will be looking for ways to keep the buzz going. What we should do is consider the future for these kinds of large scale events for our city, our region and our country.
Like with Expo 86, Vancouver has proven again that it can be an incredible host. The debate should begin as to what kind of world event we should conduct next. For Canada, we have no choice but to make absolutely certain that a powerful consortium of provinces, territories and industry are at London 2012 and Sochi 2014. Canada has written the book on inspiring interest in the public, and we must continue to use the Games as a vehicle for attracting the best and brightest.
Like Heineken House, which is a veritable Dutch embassy at the Olympics, with passport services, politicians, royalty and athletes mixing with the public, and their national radio and TV networks in place, Canada must create a dynamic presence at future Olympics. We could have a collection of pavilions featuring the regions and our businesses, providing information about our universities and our artists. It would be a safe and welcoming destination for Canadian tourists, while inviting thousands from across the globe to know us better.
Instead of each province or territory working alone, we should make every effort to collaborate in this endeavour.
The idea of Where 2 Be for Free should live on as an example for future Olympics and major events. And we can trace it back to the success of Vancouver 2010.