Olympics’ Tired Honoured Traditions

Critics of London’s Olympic opening ceremony are in the minority, and I do concur Danny Boyle’s jolly jape was one of the better efforts in living memory. But my opinion on the five ring circus (published in The Sunday Age , 7/3/10) hasn’t changed.

As a rule, most sporting traditions conjure positive vibes. Even antiquated grass courts, crap weather and upper class snobbery, topped with strawberries and cream, make for a revered combo, a la Wimbledon.  

But its time the five ring circus did away with the insulting extravagance and nationalistic bombast that is the opening ceremony.

Does the Third World really need to see hour after hour of Bollywood gone bad, as the host nation squanders millions in an attempt to prove their cultural superiority?

Sure, when Moscow met Cecil B. DeMille, there was a definite ‘wow’ factor – but as per the latter Star Wars trilogy, bigger ain’t necessarily better, nor does sensory overload equate to unforgettable brilliance or poignancy.  Staying awake is half the battle, try unravelling the supposedly deep and meaningful messages amid the pyrotechnics, special effects and perplexingly costumed cast of thousands.  And don’t get me started on the turgid dirges that pass for the bespoke official song

Beijing’s opening ceremony was estimated at $300m, out of a total event budget of $40b.  Ironically, it was a Chinese apprentice carpenter living in Australia (John Ian Wing) who suggested before the 1956 Melbourne Olympiad that as a symbol of world unity, the athletes parade together at the closing ceremony (rather than by country).  Maybe it’s time for another similar gesture.  A production more Clint Eastwood, less James Cameron.

We don’t need the athletes to all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but why not strip back the Games’ opening to the meaningful formalities; the athletes’ entrance, the lighting of the torch, raising of the Olympic flag, the obligatory national anthem and a speech or two?  Then, let the Games begin with the men’s and/or the women’s  marathons, and launch into the track and field program as the crowd awaits the runners big re-entry into the stadium for the finish of the Olympics’ most revered event.

It will take a brave host nation though, to cast egos aside and embrace some perspective.  But unlike the modern extravaganzas of our time, it would be memorable and unique, and both the Olympics and the World all the better for it.

@JeffDowsing, March 2010

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