Olympics are not ‘bloody nuisances’
By Iqbal Latif
The Duke of Edinburgh has described Olympic Games’ opening and closing ceremonies as “bloody nuisances” and called for them to be banned. Opening and closing ceremonies destroy the spirit of the games; it is about competition and not extravaganza. “They ought to be banned. They are a pain in the neck,” he added. The Duke also said that he hoped to do “as little as possible” during the 2012 Olympics in London by which time he will be 91 years old. Shivers goes down my spine as I think if Londoners follow his suggestions! I think Olympics are neither about competition nor festivity; it is about the ‘struggle’ to weave a global culture as we nurture. The Olympic Creed reads: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
In 1921, Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, borrowed a Latin phrase from his friend, Father Henri Didon, for the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius (‘Swifter, Higher, Stronger’). Pierre de Coubertin got the inspiration for this expression from a speech given by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot at a service for Olympic champions during the 1908 Olympic Games. Created by Pierre de Coubertin in 1914, the Olympic flag contains five interconnected rings on a white background. The five rings symbolize the five significant continents and are interconnected to symbolize the friendship to be gained from these international competitions. The rings, from left to right, are blue, yellow, black, green, and red. The colours were chosen because at least one of them appeared on the flag of every country in the world. The flag, flame and doves are representative of purity, endeavour for perfection, and global peace. The Olympic anthem articulates ‘Create in our breasts, hearts of steel!’
The suggestion to prune down London Olympics opening and closing ceremonies is somewhat loaded coming from Price Philip. Maintaining tradition is a pet assignment of the ‘Top out-of-sight: the super-rich, heirs to huge fortunes.’ Royals are masters of pageantry and spectacle; no one puts a better extravaganza for state occasions merrier or sad. From crowning of the ‘Queen’ to marriages of Charles and heartbreaking funerals of Lady Diana, the world at large has joined the Royal family in their joys and aches. The world has become an ingredient of the Royal family’s happiness and sorrow. In this interconnected world, more than life-size occasions are part of this new global civilization. Personality and celebrity cult has taken the entire world with a storm. The Duke described a ceremony at the 1972 Games in Munich as ‘absolutely, appallingly awful’.
The Olympics has seen a plethora of eye-catching ceremonies. Los Angeles 1984 had a stuntman flying through the air on a jet-pack; the highlight of Barcelona 1992 was an archer lighting the flame with a blazing arrow; and in Atlanta the show was stolen by Mohammad Ali. The Australian organisers, with their colourful national history played out in song and dance. Some like the Duke of Edinburgh may think these ceremonies are an irrelevant distraction from the main event, simply a waste of time and money. But perhaps for the billons of people around the world the common people, who have been denied such unique shows of peace and tranquillity, these are the very embodiment of mankind coming in concert. This is rise of a new global culture, very untraditional, but very much in line with new population explosion from the turn of this century, and expression of a new class that enjoys such spectacle beyond ‘classy dressage equestrian events’ loved by the Prince.
The opening and closing ceremonies have become the spectacle of Olympics more than the sport itself. Opening and closing ceremonies are demonstration of chipping in; they are the true joy of poor nations. Think of that flag bearer for Mongolia when he walks in the stadium, it is breathtaking! His undemanding attire and grand attitude balances the gaudy affluent moneyed nations who have no end of money to spare for sport. Congratulations to the Mongolians, Bhutanese and other small nations, for whom getting to the games are truly an Olympian feat. I’m astonished that anyone witnessing the great opening spectacles of Olympics could possibly think of those as ‘bloody nuisances.’ Has the world ever seen such a fantastic opening ceremonies as the ones in Barcelona , Sydney or Athens ? And does the feeling of ‘Unity’ as one earth not move us? Albeit just for a few hours? Surely that is what the Olympics is all about? Surely even the hardest of critics felt something when Korea walked out as one nation in Sydney together for the first time in so many years clasping hands? It brought many close to tears. This is the power of Olympics, to cement nations and bring them together.
Pageantry and pomp bring calm to billions from pains and violence that we witness every day. These global events, like next week’s World cup football matches, bring a soothing effect to chaotic life of more than 5.5 billion people. They are looking for some color and verve in their routine living, and these global events afford them some hope and some serenity. These global arenas and showmanship are the harbinger of greater understanding and unity amongst mankind. Much as the world is impacted by violent forces of nature like Tsunami and Earthquakes telecasted right into our living areas, these synthetic non-traditional events bring some joy and happiness to billions of very ordinary folks whose only joy is watching these events.
Olympic spirit gives voice to the disenfranchised. The first Aboriginal athlete to compete for Australia, Cathy Freeman ignited the Olympic torch in the main stadium at the 2000 Sydney Games. Ten days later she literally ran for an entire continent when she won the gold in the 400-metre dash. The black power salute in Mexico will live in the memory of Olympians forever. It was the most popular medal ceremony of all time. The photographs of two black American sprinters standing on the medal podium with heads bowed and fists raised at the Mexico City Games in 1968 not only represent one of the most unforgettable moments in Olympic history but a landmark in America’s civil rights movement.
What was in the past the luxury of ‘royalty’ has passed on to a common man. The luxury enjoyed by the very poor like that of ‘iced water’ was a luxury an Emperor could only have demanded. Indian Emperors used to get their ice to sweltering Delhi from the Himalayas. Traditions are great as they demand a lot of labour, a bunch of underclass to perform an act with minimal returns. This underclass today is vanishing and this is the underclass that enjoys the great opening and closing ceremonies in billions, like the World Cup shall be witnessed by 4 billion people, so will be the Cricket World Cup. The merrier the openings are, the better the sentiments for population at large would be. Why should the daily sick dosage of continual killings be the only legacy of this new age?
The world at large is hungry for occasions of state and shows of global peace that may show that we humans are one race and can celebrate. Times when we see growing divisions within civilisation as a result of campaigns of abhorrence, occasions of global pomp aimed towards unity of mankind are great displays. Olympic opening and closing shows are just that kind of grand exhibitions of great coming together of man. Athens 2004 and Barcelona 1992 were the ceremonies that put new standards without doubt.
The Beijing Olympics have launched a global search campaign for ideas that would make the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Games a spectacular and inspiring event. Organizers say they are looking for creative concepts that could turn the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing games, which are to emphasize technology, the environment and peace, into ‘wonders’.The Opening ceremony on Beijing has a theme, to promote cultural development, and construct a socialist, spiritual civilization. The Olympic tenet of “Faster, Higher and Stronger” not only inspires athletes but also reflects the concept of advanced cultures. I pray that London develops a similar theme and will play its role aptly to do justice with the opening and closing ceremonies that befit the greatest show on the earth in the greatest cities of the earth.