An Olympic transformation
I was lucky enough to get to Wimbledon this year to watch the ladies’ semi-finals, and it was only once I had arrived at the All England Lawn Tennis Club that I realised it is also the venue for the Olympic tennis.
The UK hasn’t hosted Olympic tennis since 1908, but the preparations to transform the Club into an Olympic venue are already underway. It’s a project with a short timescale, given that the Wimbledon Championships have only just finished. It gives the grounds staff and the project team only 20 days to turn the place around.
The famous green backdrops and court surrounds will be replaced by the purple branding of the 2012 Games. The grounds team will install Olympic rings where they need to go, and there is a new podium being constructed on Centre Court, ready for the winners to receive their medals.
In the programme I took away from my day trip to the AELTC, there was a short interview with Eddie Seaward, Head Groundsman. “We will soak the courts, pre-germinate the seed, and wait to see what Mother Nature throws at us,” he says in it. Luckily, Centre Court now has a retractable roof, so even if it continues to rain as much as it has over the last couple of weeks, the tennis will still go on.
The feel of the venue will no doubt be very different. For the AELTC Championships, the players wear traditional white clothes. For the Olympics, they’ll be in their national team colours. They will only use 12 courts instead of the 19 used for the Championships. This might be because the Paralympics are scheduled after the Olympics, and the wheelchair tennis is not being held at Wimbledon. During the 2 weeks of the AELTC Championships, Wimbledon hosts wheelchair tennis as well.
I think the biggest change will be in the advertising, although I haven’t been to see the redecorated Wimbledon, and I won’t be going, so this is just speculation. The AELTC has no large advertising placards. There are no McDonalds or Starbucks concessions. The shops, restaurants and cafes on site are discrete and even the corporate hospitality marquees are barely branded. I have a feeling that it won’t be like that when the Olympics comes to town. Given the way branding has been managed elsewhere in London, I imagine that the venue will be full of posters and sponsors’ adverts.
I’ll have to watch the Olympic tennis on TV to find out if I’m right, and if the transformation project was a success.
Photo: Serena Williams playing on Ladies' Semi-Finals day on Wimbledon Centre Court. Photo copyright: Elizabeth Harrin