London 2012 Olympics and the Troubled World

In a world that can sometimes seem bleak in the face of atrocities, sport has the power to bring people together and remind them of their common humanity.

And that is exactly what I witnessed at the opening ceremony of London 2012. The spectacularly directed and staged opening ceremony that included the RAF aerobatics, tributes and performances from Sir Paul McCartney, Mr-Bean (Rowan Atkinson) and David Beckham showcasing the best of British talent and skills was witnessed by 62,000 people live and a further one billion people on Television. The highlight was of course the Queen being escorted by the British James Bond -Daniel Craig.

Fire-works at the stadium. Image courtesy Radiotimes

A lot can be said and described and we can discuss the minor details of the costumes of the performers and can go on and do an in-depth analysis of the ceremony and the speeches made by the government officials. But it will not be of any real use as the opening ceremony has been praised and criticised with the most powerful microscopes of critics and journalists equally worldwide. To me, there were a number of fascinating happenings at the opening ceremony, and what truly captivated my imagination and curiosity were some of the teams from the batch of 205 worldwide nations that were present.

It all started when the Ethiopian team walked out with their procession. The country is the second largest in Africa and is also the second most populous state in the region. The country has been suffering from the worst ever drought in 60 years and the country is not expected to recover from the draught till late 2012. A recent wave of ethnic violence has also un-settled the country and along with poor resources and fewer facilities for the athletes it is a no small feat to put together a team of athletes and swimmers that would bring the nation a few smiles in these troubled times.

The next were the team of Syrians, smiling and waving at their supporters who are in the middle of a civil war. The fighting has intensified in the past few days, President Bashar Al- Assad`s violent crackdown on democracy activists has been condemned worldwide and the Olympic Chief of Syria was refused the UK Visa for the same reason. There has been widespread international condemnation of the Assad regime’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The UN says at least 10,000 people have died in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. The Syrians who have not taken part in the games since Athens Olympics 2004 have put together a team of 10 athletes who will compete in swimming, boxing, weight lifting, athletics and shooting.

Next in line was Pakistan, the country affected by terrorists attacks and suicide bombing since the 9/11 and with rumours of another Military take-over the country is everything but happy. Scarcely resourced when it comes to sports and heavily inclined towards cricket (as most commonwealth nations are) the country has not won a gold in a long time. In fact the last time they won gold was in 1992 Barcelona. It is again their field hockey team which is carrying the hopes for medals.

Pakistani athlete waving the national flag (Image Courtesy Reuters)

The Greeks lead the parade of nations as they walked in procession clad in blue suits. They were also the one that amused me the most – I sat there watching their procession thinking that who knew that eight years later the same country who was hosting the Olympics (not to mention that also the ones who invented Olympics) would be in a severe financial melt-down risking their European membership and relying on the International Olympic Committee, private sponsors and other institutions to pay for their pre-Olympic training. “It was a tough preparation, the toughest we have ever had because of the economic crisis,” said Greece` Olympic President Spyros Capralos. The athletes will be fighting against grim mood spread by not just the financial problems but also the recent ban of their two elite athletes for racism and doping.

Greek athletes leading the parade of nations – Photo by Petros Doumpiotis

On came Palestinians with only three athletes all of whom were selected with wild card entries as this is a nation that has been in crisis for more than 20 years. Displaced by inner conflicts and the neighbouring state Israel, Palestinians will not be even close to winning a bronze, but representing their people and letting them world know that they are there, participating and celebrating along with the entire world is itself a soothing thought for the crisis-ridden nation.

I have not mentioned all of the countries here, as time and word limit does not allow me to do, but there were other countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Tajikistan, Haiti, Uganda and many others suffering from the same problems or even greater as mentioned above. The point to note here is that it is hard to put up a smiling face in front of thousands of people, when your mind is pre-occupied with civil war, bombings and financial crises, even harder to compete in sports with a focused mind when you have a lack of preparation and near to none facilities. It takes great courage to plunge into a world-wide event when the only complete thing is the faith in oneself. It would be interesting to see how the gold medal winners from the leading countries would react if put in the same environment and given the same preparation as these athletes coming from the third world. Even more amusing would be to see if they won anything.