Olympics 2012: Gathering for something other than death

Tomorrow is the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. The first sporting events have actually taken place (football matches). There has been, in the media (and especially I think in the newspapers) a certain amount of grouching about this upcoming extravaganza. I can only think that the chattering classes are trying to do all they can to stop us enjoying this great event, that is unlikely to come again to this country in my lifetime. Fortunately most folks I speak to, be they great sports enthusiasts or not, seem to be wanting to enjoy the next few weeks in various and varying ways. No moaning there!

It is difficult though to think of the Olympics in London without thinking of the events that took place seven years ago. On July 6th it was announced that London had won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. I do not think it is rose-tinted spectacles and errant memory when I say I remember alot of people, inside and outside of London, myself included, found this is a reason to celebrate.

The next day fifty-two innocent people in London lost their lives in four separate explosions, at the hands of four suicide bombers.

The aims of the bombers were not connected with the Olympics, but in my mind ever since the 2012 Olympics have been irrevocably linked to the actions for those four young men on July 7th, 2005.

The Olympic ideal is easy to scoff at. It is easy to say that the Games have fallen prey to geopolitical strife more than once. The events in Munich in 1972 are still an uncomfortable heritage which I do not think the IOC fully realises, for reasons I do not know. Likewise it is easy to find fault with the “business” side of the games, the commercial sponsorships and the like. In the same vein there is the ever-present doubt it today’s champion but turn out to achieved greatness through illegal means.

I actually agree somewhat with each of those concerns, but ultimately, the Olympic ideal remains. It is an ideal, to be aimed for, and like all ideals is not necessarily achievable, humans being what we are. Paraphrasing G K Chesterton, the Olympic has not been achieved and found wanting, it has been found difficult and thus disparaged.

The Olympics are meant to be a time of coming-together. A time to set aside old and current scores. A time to celebrate humanity’s achievements, and to make allowance for our flaws. At times the Olympics has been bedevilled by geopolitics, and yet, I wonder … perhaps some of the great US/USSR clashes, Cold War by proxy, actually acted as a safety valve, allowing an expression of jingoism and competition in a safe place, while cooler heads could prevail in the realms of armies, navies, and air forces. As Churchill once said, “Jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war, war.”

When I watch the Opening Ceremony tomorrow, I will marvel that so many disparate nations, nations that even today are very unfriendly, are gathering peacefully in one place for something as beautifully mundane and glorious as sport. When I travel to London next Thursday to actually attend an Olympic event, I will get a feeling I always get when visiting London of a global metropolis, yet British city, vibrant and resilient.

I remember a cartoon from 2005. A spectral Hitler was saying to bin-Laden something along the lines of “Don’t bomb Londoners. It doesn’t work. I tried.”

So often nations only seem to gather together in death. Sometimes this is at funerals of the great – just think of the international nature of the funeral of Pope John Paul II the Great. Other times it is of tragedy. A vast number of countries, and people within those countries, in this world have expressed sympathy with the victims of the murderer at the screening of a batman film in the US. I remember, in 2005, at baseball’s All-Star Game the bands played “God Save the Queen”. I watched it and cried. I just found it a shame so few of my countrymen probably realised how, at a very time and place, America mourned with us as we had mourned with them four years previously.

Tomorrow, the world will be gathered for reasons other than death. It is something to celebrate. I intend to do so.

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