Tuesday, 9 August 2016
Back in 2012, watching the opening celebrations of the London Olympic Games, after months, nay, years, of commentators complaining about spiralling costs, legacy and sustainability, my husband exclaimed, ‘He’s done it! Danny Boyle’s pulled it off.’ He was referring to the opening spectacle. A cast of thousands depicting pre- and post-industrialised Britain, intermingled with ‘happy’ children at Great Ormond Street hospital, the great institution that is our NHS, Mary Poppins, our multi-million pound export - ‘pop music’, David Beckham and, let’s not forget, the Queen parachuting into the Olympic arena. A strange mix but it did make us Brits feel we have something to be proud about. Perhaps we take our achievements, as a nation, for granted. Maybe our concerns as individuals, day-day living costs, poor returns on savings, if we are lucky enough to have any investments, too much traffic, not enough parking spaces… make us forget about the good things our country has created. We still enjoy free health care and schools for all, opportunities and wealth, for many, if not everyone. We can expect electric lighting, clean water and sewers to ensure our lives are safe and disease-free.
This year, watching the opening night in Rio, I was conscious, again, of the grumbles about the costs of staging the Olympics. Having read about the lack of sanitation in the favelas, the ensuing pollution in the waters where aquatic sports were to be held, one wonders why nations feel they have to spend so much on stadiums when other priorities – like actually paying essential workers – are left ignored. One can only hope that Tokyo uses the sports arenas they had in 1964, when a tuneful ‘Good Morning Tokyo’ rang out across our black-and-white TV screens. Am I the only one who feels a lump in the throat when nations put on fantastic displays for us to enjoy? We know that Rio residents are, in many cases, suffering and are angry about the money being used for such entertainments rather than for an essential infrastructure. The opening spectacles seem to leave me in two minds. Glad for the sense of theatre and celebration but sad that people still live in slums. Fireworks last but a few moments.
In the athletes’ march past I again felt relieved I live in a country which has freedom of speech and an Olympic team which has opportunities for training so they reach their potential. It was, as in 2012, sobering to see countries such as Sierra Leone offering a much smaller team of athletes than our own. The difficulties people in SL have had to overcome beggar belief. To be able to create a team at all is astonishing, given the tribulations suffered by that African nation. In the march past one cannot ignore the fact so many athletes represent countries where there are repressive regimes, corruption, poverty, war or lack of opportunity. Again, as in 2012, I felt proud to be British. I felt lucky to have been born in a country where so many advantages are enjoyed by most of its citizens. The team of refugees on parade, looking happy and full of life, brought more than a lump to my throat. Not only do these athletes not have a country, they may well have had an horrendous journey in their escape from persecution, they may have had to scrimp and save to afford sports coaches, a gym, a swimming pool or similar. Who knows what sacrifices they have made or what horrors they have escaped from? One can only wish them well and realise that the Olympics opening night is an education. It’s not just about sport.
Count your blessings!