Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
      Volume 11 |Issue 34| August 31, 2012 |


 Cover Story
 Current Affairs
 Special Feature
 A Roman Column
 Food for Thought
 Star Diary
 Book Review
 Write to Mita

   SWM Home

Food for Thought

Good Sports and Bad Eggs

Part I

Farah Ghuznavi

Now that it's safely over, I'll admit it. I could not understand what the high-ups were thinking of when London put in a bid for the 2012 Olympics. As someone who has spent more than her fair share of time in that city, including several years living there for both study and work purposes, I'm pretty familiar with what London has to offer, both good and bad. And despite having one of the world's best passenger transport systems, I think few London dwellers would deny that the city's infrastructure has been struggling to cope with the volume of inhabitants (and commuters) for some time now. Add to that a few random concerns, such as the inevitable terrorist threats facing one of the world's most iconic cities, and a populace that only grudgingly tolerates the annual tourist influx, and the whole 2012 Olympics idea resembled a recipe for disaster.

But against the odds, London seems to have come up trumps - with the opening ceremony heralding the quality of things to come. Danny Boyle, the man responsible for the extravaganza, managed to pack in quite a few surprises for his jaded audience. From the 'angels on bicycles', to the incredible display of fireworks and Olympic torches, to Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean threatening to unbalance the entire orchestra and the special video of the Queen apparently joining her special agent James Bond 007 for a parachuting jaunt, not much about this opening ceremony could be dismissed as predictable. It built on many of Britain's strengths, pulling off a blend of spectacle (performances and displays that clearly outshone most of the previous hosts, including Beijing), branding(British humour and punk attitude) and a variety of global icons (individuals/characters represented by Daniel Craig, Rowan Atkinson and Sir Paul McCartney), all set against a killer soundtrack.

Perhaps as surprising, though rather more subtle, was the vision of Britain that seemed to underlie Boyle's flamboyant celebrations. This was "Cool Britannia" rather than stuffy royal pomp and pageantry - a sentimental homage to the National Health Service at a time when the current British government is planning sweeping cuts, and a nod to Britain's industrial past rather than its service-oriented present. And perhaps most of all, the ceremony was striking for its diversity and the multiple shades of immigrant presence clearly visible among the performers. I couldn't help thinking that none of this was representative of the attitudes and priorities of the current Conservative administration, and liked Danny Boyle all the more for the independence of his thinking.

Of course, not everyone agreed with me. But most were more discreet than the (now infamous) Aidan Burley, a Conservative MP in the current British Parliament. This idiotic man actually tweeted mid-ceremony to say "Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!" Given this clear demonstration of Mr Burley's light political touch, it will perhaps be no surprise to anyone that he was sacked from his job as aide to the Transport Secretary in June, by the Prime Minister David Cameron - though he does of course remain an MP.

Why was he fired? Well, apparently Burley was not only foolish enough to attend a stag party that featured a toast to the Third Reich and a guest wearing a Nazi SS uniform, he was in fact the one who hired the uniform for the groom. So no one was particularly convinced by his subsequent defence that his Olympic tweet had been "misunderstood" and that he was "talking about the way it was handled in the show, not multiculturalism itself". Presumably the lily-white shades of tradition represented by the Red Arrows, Shakespeare (with notable exceptions such as Othello and Shylock) and the Rolling Stones were a simple coincidence!

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (C) gives her speech during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photo: AFP

Burley may not have been alone in the views that he expressed. Much of the commentary from the opening ceremony had a disturbing undertone of reluctant post-colonialism. A number of countries were identified by their colonial history, even in cases where they had been independent (from whatever Empire) for more than half a century. Specifying such a historical identity might be relevant in the case of countries which have more recently achieved independence, such as East Timor or South Sudan. But it's hard to see how it could be remotely relevant more than 50 years later, except in the yearning memories of the colonial "masters". This peculiarity sat uneasily with the Olympic ideals of common humanity and sporting excellence, and raised some questions about the agenda of the commentators. It also stood in stark contrast to the contemporary perspective which flavoured the opening ceremony performances that Mr Burley found so offensively multicultural.

Meanwhile, on the topic of offence being taken, the Indian contingent at the Games was hopping mad about the mysterious lady in red and blue, of unknown origin, who walked alongside the flag bearer, thereby not only gate-crashing the ceremony but raising the inevitable security concerns. All this compounded the anger already generated by India's fleeting appearance on global TV screens. To add the final touch to their irritation, the intruder added insult to injury by "hogging the limelight", making the puzzled Indian team members understandably furious.

Meanwhile, insult was met with well-deserved injury in the case of Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential hopeful, who was dubbed "Mitt the Twit" for his repeated gaffes in questioning Britain's ability to host the games successfully. The British Prime Minister and the Mayor of London put him firmly in his place, while the US Olympic gold - winner Carl Lewis suggested that Romney should go home if he didn't know what to say. The British print media's description of Romney as "perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive" said it all! By contrast, First Lady Michelle Obama was commended for joining enthusiastically in the fun with over 1,000 children at a specially organised event to celebrate the Games.

In the US itself, NBC News nearly outdid Mitt Romney in aggravating the public by replacing the tribute to victims of the terror attack in London in July 2005 - choreographed by the award-winning British-Bangladeshi Akram Khan - with a brief interview of Michael Phelps bythe "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest. Angry viewers around the world complained bitterly, while the American comedian and commentator Jon Stewart asked why NBC would choose to omit a six minute tribute to the victims of terrorism just because "the world's most overexposed land-based mammal had a chance to speak to speak to the world's most overexposed water-based mammal". NBC's subsequent statement that their program was tailored to the US audience and that it was "a credit to Danny Boyle that it required so little editing" (!) was about as warmly welcomed as their use of the Seacrest interview and indicated why American arrogance - which the most arrogant prefer to call "exceptionalism" – fails, every now and then, to go down quite as well with the rest of the world.

…to be continued

Sources for this article include the BBC, the UK Telegraph, the Huffington Post, Yahoo, the Daily Star and various Internet commentators.



Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012