The leaky cauldron
I really enjoyed last night’s opening ceremony – for anyone reading in the future, this is the Olympics, that thing that happens every few years (you know what I mean). Whilst I would stop short of saying it evokes national pride in me, because I don’t believe Britishness to exist, especially in the context of being Welsh, it was fun. It could have been horrible, but it wasn’t. It was a nice change from the usual arty-farty dancing kind of stuff that no one really wants to see – I mean there was dancing but it was limited to safe levels.
However, the last 15 minutes were a bit of a buzzkill, and not only because they let Paul McCartney out of his box again. Yes, I am talking about the lighting of the Olympic cauldron – the “big surprise” was that we were all fooled, because it was lit by a bunch of kids. Not just any old kids, but it might as well have been, since it was supposed to represent them, even if it doesn’t. I shall now explain, with 5 reasons why it was the wrong way to end the ceremony:
1. Athletes are not representative of the British public
People associated the Olympics with athletics. People associated athletics with running. People associate running with not costing much. But we all know that’s all bollocks. To succeed in Olympic sports, especially track and field, sailing and rowing which was what was represented last night by the kids, you have to be privileged, because you’ve got to have the facilities at your disposal and the financial backing to succeed.
Though he may have been disappointed for different reasons, David Cameron pointed out a few months back about how concerned he was that a third of the British team was privately educated. Of course this is a dig at state schools from him, but the point still stands looking at it from a leftist perspective in the light of making out that these kids are representing what has quickly become described as “the People’s Games”. Yes, I am aware that the famous athlete(s) chosen may have also received similar privileges but at least they are known public figures.
2. The enormous pressure for the future now placed on the kids
The problem for these seven kids in the future is that they are forever going to be known as the seven kids that lit the Olympic flame in the opening ceremony. That’s a hell of a burden to deal with. Either people will expect them to achieve, since they’ve been nominated by some of Britain’s greatest Olympians, or they will expect them to disappear into obscurity, as so many of our “great hopes” for the future have done.
The ones with the best chance of succeeding will be the kids competing in rowing and sailing, because they have statistically the best chance of making it into the games in the future, but then it’s worth pointing out point 1 again – sailing and rowing are middle class sports, one with blatantly obvious need for expense and the other most closely associated with our two oldest and most middle class universities.
3. It’s already been done before, and it didn’t work out
In 1976, Montreal chose 2 young up-and-coming athletes to light the cauldron, one representing Anglophone Canada and one representing Francophone Canada. Neither ever competed in the Olympics. Stephane Prefontaine abandoned athletics after injury, and he is now a lawyer. And Sandra Henderson? I don’t know what happened to her – Google can’t find anything.
This time is just a setup for a Guardian article 20 years from now, asking the question “So where are the cauldron lighters of 2012?” Because it’s inevitable that not all of them will succeed in their respective sports, and possible that none of them will. I suppose giving it to seven makes it less likely that none of them will become well-known, but why bother chancing it when Britain has produced so many great athletes that they could have chosen from?
4. Betting companies will benefit
Bookmakers are awful – we all know that. For the last year, they set the lighting of the cauldron up to be a big competition to see which famous Olympian or sportsman would receive the honour. They will have taken millions from punters for this. And yet everyone lost. Apart from the bookmakers.
Now I know that some have decided to pay out on certain people who were present at the end, but at the same time, it’s varying between the different companies. This is hardly a fair state of affairs, is it? And they’ll still make a lot of money out of something that was set up to intentionally be a massive deception of the whole hype-driven “competition”. I feel uneasy about this.
5. Muhammed Ali
Finally, it is worth looking back through some of the previous cauldron-lighters. While not all have been well-known, the last 8 summer games have seen the cauldron lit by an Olympian or Paralympian. It’s fair to say that the shark was jumped in 1992 when Spanish Paralympian archer Antonio Rebollo fired a flaming arrow “into” the cauldron (he didn’t really). Since then we’ve seen Aborigine Cathy Freeman in Sydney, gold medal-winning sailor Nikolaos Kaklamanakis in Athens, and the great Chinese gymnast Li Ning in Beijing.
But 1996 is the most significant one, for it was lit by the greatest sportsman of all time. The reason Muhammed Ali is so great is not only because he was a brilliant, charismatic boxer who defined the sport in which he competed, but because he was a human being, and that was plainly evident when he lit the flame, even then suffering with the effects of Parkinson’s disease (16 years on and he shouldn’t really be wheeled out again – the man is clearly ailing).
Now it would be difficult for Britain to match America’s Ali. But we have plenty of great Olympians to choose from. And yes, they did get a say in choosing the kids – but at the same time, I doubt that was their choice.
It seemed like a bottle job, as if they were overcome by indecisiveness and thought it would be unfair to single anyone out in particular so they should just pick some anonymous people. It’s a cop out. There are great people who have achieved so much in their careers and given a great deal back to their sports. They deserve to be rewarded for that. But not only that, part of the fun is seeing who gets the honour of doing it – even if it had been a group of famous Olympians lighting it, that still would have been interesting. Taking that fun away just leaves an anticlimactic ending. Some people seemed to enjoy it, but I didn’t.
I tend to agree with the comments of two LA Times journalists – Bill Plaschke wrote “I like my cauldron lit by one person… and a person people have heard of”, while John Cherwa wrote “just make a decision and pick someone”. That sums it up.