Wednesday, 16 November 2011

On Your Mark, Get Ready . . . SHOP!

In all the hype and construction boom surrounding the 2012 Olympic Games in London people are overlooking an event that will generate more participation and viewer interest than any of the hundreds of events on the schedule.

Very few of us can run 100 meters in less than 10 seconds. In fact, very few of us can do that time on a bicycle. Even fewer of us can stagger through 5,000 meters, let alone a marathon. We see film of would-be gold medal winners straining every muscle, training 10 hours a day, eating carefully calibrated meals that most certainly do not include bangers and mash, or spending so much time in a swimming pool that they develop dorsal fins. This is all very uplifting, but it is not really anything the average person can relate to as he sits on his lawn mower chugging a can of beer and working through a pack of Marlboros.

No, what the Olympics really need is an event for Everyman or, in this case Everywoman, an event that captures the imagination of everyone from Beijing to Moscow to Paris to London and to New York. This event requires a certain amount of training, but won’t result in the emaciated long-distance-runner-look or the muscle bound figure of a Bulgarian shot-putter.

This long overdue event is called Shopping, yes Shopping. It is an event that involves millions of people of all ages, genders, and sizes on a daily basis. Sports like football, cricket, baseball or basketball may draw hundreds of thousands of viewers, but how many of us actually get a chance to kick or throw the ball? Shopping, in sharp contrast, is the ultimate participation sport.

It’s not easy picking the right products, the right price or the right place to buy them. It can be even harder fighting through the crowds to get to the treasured pair of shoes or the latest stylish handbag – especially during the sales. If you’re a guy in America it can be tough getting the latest pick-up truck or the newest semi-automatic weapon on sale at your local supermarket – right behind the frozen foods.

Ferragamo on Sloane Street

What I propose is an Olympic Shopping event where each country can enter a team that is given a certain amount of money to buy goods in select cities around the world. The teams will be chosen after tough elimination contests in each country and can be single sex or mixed. The event would start about a month before the Olympics actually begin and would finish in a mad dash during the final week in the Olympic city.

In order not to tilt the event toward girlfriends of your basic Russian oligarch, Arab sheik or South American drug lord, product manufacturers would provide all the cash required in the finals. All the items purchased would be donated to charity.

Competitors in the finals would have to shop in Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, Milan, Paris, London and New York. They would be given a broad list of items to buy, and would have to search for the best ‘value-for-money’ they can find. Winners must be able to navigate with ease not just the obvious places like Bond Street in London or rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris or Via Monte Napoleone in Milan but they must be able to find small ateliers in unassuming places like the 19th Arrondisement in Paris near the Canal St. Martin.
Place Vendome

The really tricky part is the judging. Style points are as important as points awarded for best goods purchased with the least amount of cash. That stunning little handbag purchased directly from the manufacturer outside Milan gets bonus points compared to the same bag purchased at the department store Le Bon Marché in Paris. Diamonds from Van Cleef & Arpels in the Place Vendome in Paris also get a few bonus points over sparkly bits from the same shop on 5th Avenue in New York.

Van Cleef & Arpels on Bond Street
Points are generally deducted for anything purchased in department stores like Harrods that have long since surrendered whatever cachet they once had to the camera-toting tourist brigade. Several additional points are deducted for any knock-offs, even the good ones from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Granted, the judging could be even more subjective than the figure skating judging, and efforts would have to be made to exclude home-town judges from influencing the results.

Tough to pick favorites in this event, but the Italians would seem to have the early edge given that so many of the products come from there. But never underestimate the sharp-elbowed, high-heeled Russian oligarchs’ girlfriends. Their bodyguards can at least make sure they get to the front of the queue. The Spaniards and the newly-rich Turks can also provide serious competition. A Turkish couple on holiday in Athens recently spent more than €40,000 in a single day in that beleaguered city. The Athenians should have awarded them the Order of Pericles with Oak Leaves for their single handed effort to salvage the Greek economy. There should also be good effort from the Chinese, the Americans always on the look-out for decent bargains for anything from countries to handbags, and the Brazilians eager to demonstrate that their country offers more than Ipanema Beach or football.

All in all it promises to be a spirited contest, one that will draw the attention of millions around the globe.

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