Sunday, 3 February 2013
London 2012; it’s the Summer Olympics and British sport is riddled with class and snobbery. The games are referred to as ‘Elite Sports’ because so many medallists came from private schools, the sector that caters for that privileged 7% of the population. Other ethical and policy arguments surfaced; militant Tories took the opportunity to deride the Opening Ceremony as ‘multicultural crap’, and blame 'leftie teachers' for undermining competitive sports in schools with a ‘prizes-for-everyone’ mentality. Some cynics complained about commentatoritis, the French complained about ‘magic wheels’, Mrs Grundy complained about the fad of biting medals at presentations, Anti-Capitalists complained about corporate sponsorship, political activists complained about the outlawing of protests and the banning political tee shirts, licensed taxi drivers demanded access to the Games Lanes, Chinese fans said doping allegations made by a US official were 'discriminatory', while Iran claimed the brash, street-style logo was ‘Zionist’, and the Radio Times ran an advert with the tagline: ‘Knit Your Own Usain Bolt!’ On a more positive note IOC supremo Jacques Rogge was commended for getting more Moslem women into the games; the female athletes were decisive – making the London games better and different. Indeed, some hailed XXX Olympiad as the ‘women’s games’.
Social impact and ceremonial have very little to do with sport in the narrow sense as, at the extreme limits of attainment, athletes are not competing against each other; they are competing against themselves. However, media pundits promoted gurning, air-punching Olympians as an antidote to football scandals and the frightful scourge of 'instant celebrity’. Our athletes, they said, represent hard work, sacrifice, dedication, ‘agony and ecstasy’, 'heroism and heartbreak'. They give us ‘real drama’ and so many ‘unforgettable’ Big Moments. High Fives all round, then. Shout at the TV loud enough and they’ll hear you! Woot! Woot!
Aerial top shots of the park and Arena as seen from the airship at night were stunning. Both ceremonies were percussion-based ritual celebrations of Eternal Youth and primeval fire-worship; in the end the presiding spirit was ‘working class hero’ John Lennon, who returned from the grave to sing a song about religion being the enemy of 'the brotherhood of man'. Ex-Python Eric Idle then sang a number from The Life of Brian accompanied by Indian Dancers and roller-skating nuns – irreverence is just soooo British. Jessie J was better than Freddie M; singing from the tops of speeding black cabs The Spice Girls confounded their critics, and there were some ghastly boy-bands. If Bowie was the missing link, that obligatory, arm-waving ‘Hey Jude’ finale plumbed new depths of sentimental, stadium rock populism; what a missed opportunity! ‘All the Young Dudes’ would have been so much better. Apart from the Annie Lennox Gothic death ship number, few of the headline acts were a patch on the continuous massed drums of the awesome Evelyn Glennie, without whom the Isles of Wonder, like ancient Atlantis, would have imploded in a frenzy of LED effects. A ‘moronic inferno!’ snarled one narrow-minded Grub Street party-pooper.
The ‘charms’ of beach volleyball reminded us that the atavistic roots of sport are nourished by sex: courtship display, the body beautiful, health and efficiency, voyeurism. Other events reminded us that sport is also driven by violence: combat ‘fitness’, hunting 'prowess', marksmanship and the team as predatory pack. Yet, as always, such primitive insights were obscured by choirs of cute schoolchildren or sublimated in a mawkish orgy of ‘family values’ and strident rhetoric about ‘positive’ role models. Not forgetting the West Midlands, Usain exhorted everyone to ‘Big Up Birmingham!’ after the 200m finals, while we were bombarded by journalistic and political guff such as ‘inspiration for an entire generation’ and so on. It was saturation coverage. The success of volunteers will be used to justify the Big Society but the failure of the private sector to cope with basic security recruitment will be glossed over, even though the armed forces saved the day at the eleventh hour. At one venue a member of the public said it was ‘humbling’ to ‘have your handbag searched by a Royal Marine.’ No doubt boots on the ground added a touch of class, despite those missiles sited on rooftops.
The power politics of the medal table notwithstanding, the 'silent majority' of flag-wavers were not really 'jingoistic' and one perceptive spectator observed that ‘the Brits’ (that’s us!) were ‘more up for fun’ than other nations realised. Actually it was a ‘right old knees-up’ and a ‘bit of a giggle’ – rather like a Friday night sing-along down the pub, a Jubilee street party, Cool Britannia face paint or Swinging London style Union Jack knickers circa 1966. Team GB (memorabilia made in China) included competitors from all over the UK, wrong-footing Nationalists and raising ‘questions’ about ‘British identity’, whatever that means. Boxing gold medallist Nicola Adams from Leeds said the reason her part of the world did so well was, yes really: ‘Yorkshire Pudding...’ while the PM told a London free paper that his little boy was so caught up in ‘Olympic mania’ he wanted to change his name to ‘Wiggo’.
Elsewhere, mayor BoJo, victim of a stunt that went hopelessly wrong, hung suspended on a zip wire over Victoria Park shouting, “Get me a rope!” A friendly policemen did a Mobot and a ‘to di world’ to amuse the crowd, while The Face of London 2012, Jessica (‘Jess’) Ennis, snapped by paparazzi at an party with the cast of Downton, explained that she was saving Fifty Shades until after the games as it would have been ‘too distracting’ otherwise.
When asked why she had come into town to watch the men's marathon, a woman in the crowd said: 'to reclaim my city...’
Visit The Isles of Wonder – and don’t forget you camera!