Turin’s Take At The Winter Olympics: From Re-Branding A City To Reducing International Tension

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The Olympics have historically offered nations and communities the opportunity to host and entertain thousands of athletes, media personalities and tourists from around the world, presenting host states unprecedented prospects for interacting and engaging with foreign peoples and to showcase their respective culture, talent, and character on a global stage.  Moreover, the Olympics often provide a key impetus to revitalize and even revolutionize the host city, facilitating the rejuvenation of local economies and the construction of state-of-the art facilities that can change a city’s culture and image for decades into the future.

Political pundits and media commentators heralded the February 2006 winter Olympics in Turin, Italy as the least controversial international events in recent memory.  However, as with many Olympics prior, the Torino games helped to reframe the image of a small European community and invited both failed and successful attempts by countries around the world to use the Olympics as both a platform to prove their excellence in sports and to demonstrate their importance in the international political arena.

Prior to February 2006, as a small city in northern Italy, Turin was known primarily for its industrial capacity, an increasingly less marketable feature amidst the backdrop of the rapid economic transformations of the 21st century. In preparation for the Olympics, Turin undertook significant efforts to improve its infrastructure and ready the city for international scrutiny, even going so far as to change the pronunciation of the city’s name.  While Italians continue to debate the relative utility of the massive Olympic expenditures on an aging and relatively economically marginal area of the country, it is clear that Turin has transformed itself into a city that will attract global attention for years to come.

While the 2006 Olympics were critical for re-branding Torino’s image from an aging industrial city to a vacation destination for international visitors, the games also played an important role in reformulating and/or reinforcing the images of several participating countries. While some relentlessly American-centered media coverage was rebroadcast around the world and the self-promotional attitudes of athletes such as Bode Miller helped strengthen impressions of American arrogance, the Chinese expanded their Olympic presence to a number of new sporting areas.

The Danish publication of political cartoons insulting to the Muslim prophet Mohammed also cast a harsh shadow over the games.  Many feared that cartoon protestors would use the games as a venue for possibly violent protest.  This fear was so pronounced that several Danish athletes decided to opt out of the games entirely.  The absence of any real fractious political protest during the games has been attributed by many to the spirit of international cooperation and gamesmanship that permeated the event as well as to Turin’s robust security infrastructure. Indeed, the absence of protest and controversy may well have been the most important story emerging out of this year’s Olympics.

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