The World’s Greatest Sport

Well, I thought the Opening Ceremony of London 2012 was just amazing! What a tour de force – a visual and musical retelling of British history from before the industrial revolution to today, reminding us all of Britain’s contribution to world history, while avoiding jingoism and one-up-manship. The staging was magnificent, the inclusion (of patients, of NHS staff, of a choir of deaf and signing children, of just ordinary people, of 7,500 volunteers) was tremendous, the music was amazing … and as the petals of the cauldron rose up into the centre of the stadium, the fire (lit by the young athletes of tomorrow – in a symbolic passing from the old to the new) blazed with hope and warmth for the Games ahead. One of the final shots – of the Olympic rings lifted into space, with the Earth as their backdrop – was simply breathtaking.

‘Breathtaking’ is one of the adjectives used by today’s London Daily Telegraph to describe the ceremony; another is ‘bonkers’, and madness and humour pervaded the evening in an absolutely unprecedented and completely entrancing fashion. Mr Bean made his debut as the newest member of the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle, in their performance of the Chariots of Fire theme tune, and had (me and) my children in stitches on the sofa. The title of ‘The World’s Greatest Sport’ might well be reserved in its entirety, too, for Her Majesty the Queen, who agreed to be filmed accompanying Daniel Craig – aka 007 – in a sequence that apparently culminated in them both parachuting out of a helicopter above the stadium. It may be that I was caught up in the euphoria of the moment, but I felt myself impelled (almost) to shout out ‘Respect!’. What a woman!

There was sadness too, and no attempt to hide the effects of war and disaster – the pause in the opening historical segment when we remembered the First World War, and the memorial wall to which spectators had been asked to contribute pictures of loved ones who had passed away. When the flagbearer from Rwanda entered the stadium, the commentator reminded us that this athlete had stated expressly that he wanted to put Rwanda on the map for more than its horrific genocide – a remarkable statement, given that he had lost six of his brothers in the atrocity in 1994. The Iraqi team was given a particularly warm welcome, recognising the efforts the country is making to recover from war. When the Syrian team entered, reference was made by the commentator to the civil war. All of these sadnesses and horrors exist in the world, and the explicit and shared message of the ceremony was that diversity is something to be valued, inclusiveness is to be striven for, and we must move on, as a human race, to forgive the past, to be tolerant of the present, and to hope for the future.

An estimated one billion people watched last night’s ceremony; an estimated four billion people will watch the Olympic Games over the next fortnight. To bring together almost a third of the world’s population for a single event is an astonishing concept, but it is also an empowering one; if we can unite nations and people through a sporting competition that takes place every four years, then we should not stop there. The ingenuity and creativity of last night’s performances, the placing on centre stage at one point of the man who has connected the world more than any other through the world-wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the visible enthusiasm and excitement of competitors and participants – all of these spoke of the very best of humanity, and we should feel spurred on to seek to make that positive difference in the world that we know that we need.

Onwards, then … and let the Games begin!


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