The Olympic torch relay: Activating citizen-consumer discourses

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The article opens with a discussion of the evolution of the Olympic torch relay, culminating in the London 2012 Olympics. This is followed by an examination of the corporate power and politics that surrounds the Olympics. Here, the values of the Olympic movement are contrasted with moves toward the brandscaping of host cities and nations compelled by the contractual agreements that are put in place once the rights to host the Olympics are secured. Empirically, the article focuses on the Scottish leg of the Olympic torch relay, a mobile ‘event’ that travelled across the UK in the summer of 2012. Through the lens of the #citizenrelay action research project, the Olympic torch relay is opened to scrutiny as a vehicle for brand activation, secured and protected by the local state at significant cost to communities across the country. The role of citizen media in enabling playful, ironic and, at times, provocative comment on the extravagance of the Olympic is then discussed before conclusions are drawn. The article concludes by arguing that the Olympic torch relay overtly promotes the spirit of the Olympics (peace, harmony and friendship) whilst at one and the same time, using its reach and popularity to extend the tentacles of brandscaping to buildings, landscapes and spaces previously protected from the vagaries of commodification. Institutionally engineered experiences are choreographed for the benefit of national and international media, leaving citizens as passive bystanders, performing their pre-conceived role as flag wavers and raucous cheerleaders for corporate sponsors. However, we also stress the incompleteness of the corporate-media nexus and emphasise the potential of citizen media to subvert established representations enabling a participatory space where media can be created and distributed widely rather than passively consumed. The normalisation of existing power relations between mega sports events and commerce may come under threat from the weight of locally produced, digitally connected and shareable stories.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLusophone Journal of Cultural Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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