London Olympics 2012 is finally upon us. With the permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the games are now open. The athletes, coaches and referees have all taken their pledges to remain true to the spirit of sportsmanship, to play fairly, to accept defeat gracefully, and to win with honour and integrity. The Olympic torch came to London a third time, with over 10,000 athletes competing from 204 National Olympic Committees competing in the historic games.
The Opening Ceremony themed ‘Isles of Wonder’ was under the artistic direction of the Oscar director Danny Boyle and what an event that was.
After the spectacular Opening Ceremony in Beijing Olympics, one was wondering what grand show the British would give to the world.
The Bird’s Nest from the Beijing Olympics had been a grand display of China’s ascent in the world. The ceremony four years ago paid tribute to rich history of the Chinese, and they had proudly displayed their contributions to the world. This display was taken to grander heights because of the amount of technology used, and the awe-inspiring way the Olympic flame was lit – a young girl blew softly from the ground, and hundreds of feet above her, the flame ignited. But the Opening Ceremony at London Olympics was an event unto itself. While the Chinese had inspired awe and wonder, the British had reduced one to tears of joy. It was a show where, for the first time, Shakespeare and JR Rowling shared the stage. It was a show where people travelled through several decades of music, crying, dancing, laughing.
Yes, the show at the Opening Ceremony at London Olympics was not of grandeur, it was not a display of the might of the British. Instead, it had a softer, more wonderful tone to it.
The reaction of people all around the world was generally approving. Several major publications sang their praises for the ceremony. From Asia to Europe and from Australia to the Americas, there was praise for the showcase devised by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, which featured Queen Elizabeth II in a starring role alongside super-spy James Bond. However, there have been grumblings that this was the most political Opening Ceremony since the Nazis hosted Olympics in Berlin.
After the opening section, which showcased British history, including the creation of the NHS and the Jarrow march, a 1936 protest against unemployment in the North East, two tweets were posted from @AidanBurleyMP (a conservative member of the parliament), saying: “The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?”
A second tweet read: “Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows (sic), Shakespeare and the Stones!”
Spiro Zavos, an author for Roar (a sports magazine) also observed, ‘The political message at London was that Britain could recover its greatness and become Great Britain once again if the united kingdoms of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England re-embraced the radical politics that unleashed the industrial revolution and the welfare state.’ The Chinese media was very gracious in their appraisal of the ceremony. Reporter Yi Ling Chang Ailing, of Xinhua news agency, said: “From Shakespeare to Rowling, from the industrial revolution to social networking, the British tried to tell the world - London has had influence and it will continue to influence the world.”
Chen Chenxi, in the Communist Party People’s Daily, praised the British for “thrift” and their “distinctive culture and aspirations”. Chen commented, “If the Olympics opening ceremony can change from dazzling to being simple without losing warmth and from sumptuous extravagance to being calm but fully creative, it will increasingly return to the core values of the Olympic movement.”
The Press Trust of India news agency said London “presented a vibrant picture of Great Britain’s rich heritage and culture”. It noted that the song “Abide With Me”, which featured in the show, was a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi.
The French also had many positive things to say. France’s Le Figaro daily said the display “reminded a billion viewers of the best contributions that Britain has given to the world for over a century: its sense of humour, its music, and of course sport”.
The Los Angeles Times said the performance was “moving, bizarre, funny and exciting, and often surprisingly dark; certainly it was never dull. It had at times a quality of seeming completely random even as one suspected that repeated viewings would reveal all sorts of connections and echoes and interior rhymes.”
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation website said: “It was a rocking, rollicking, sometimes quiet and brooding ceremony that touched on pretty much every aspect of British culture and history from medieval times (what, no Battle of Hastings and Magna Carta?) to modern life.”
Iranian press gave a lukewarm response. Press TV describing the ceremony as “a light-hearted take on British history” but wondering whether the Games would be simply a “two-week of adrenalin rush for a country in deep recession with the hangover yet to come”. The rolling news channel IRINN reported that the ceremony took place amid “intensive security measures”.
As the world erupted in a praise of this ceremony, which was sweet, nostalgic and touching, people did notice that the ceremony failed to set the benchmark like the opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics. Computer simulations, the fireworks, the artistic displays were much, much more grand when the Chinese put up their display. But then again, it was not the intention of the British to compete, but to put up their own show – to inspire a generation from the glories of the past.