Juliet Dunlop: Forget the horrors, bring on the sheep
IN LONDON, the sun is shining over the Olympic park. Britain is on standby and the finish line is tantalisingly close. We are primed and prepped, goggles snapped in place and ready to take the plunge.
The wait is almost over. Somehow, our £9 billion sporting extravaganza is good to go.
After the years of planning and the months of carping – some might say months of planning and years of carping – we’re finally there. It feels like a miraculous recovery. Has the Olympic dream been revived just in the nick of time?
Tonight, as the curtain lifts on the opening ceremony, the Games officially begin. A giant bell will strike, sheep may safely graze, Paul McCartney will sing and magic might happen.
Danny Boyle, however, has sworn us all to secrecy, so here we must leave our happy, fantasy ending and return to the real drama, provided by – who would have guessed it? – women’s football.
On Wednesday, a small crowd turned out to see North Korea take on Colombia at Hampden. What they got was the first sporting gaffe of the Games. A blunder so great, it could have sparked more than a pitch-side stand-off. The wrong flag went up. South Korea’s was beamed across the stadium.
The face of North Korea’s coach said it all. It plunged from astonishment to rage and back again like an angry Venetian blind. Dozens looked on in anguish from the stands. North Korea refused to play. Oh, the embarrassment. Pyongyang has threatened to launch missiles for less.
But even the most enthusiastic Olympic cheerleader must admit, the road to 2012 has been long and winding and riddled with pitfalls. The wrong flag going up is the least of it. The Games have been all about things going wrong. Like security.
It was always going to be tricky and it turned out it was. G4S got it wrong, and then some. The company’s embattled but perfectly coiffed chief executive Nick Buckles, simply buckled as MPs roared “shambolic” as he admitted he’d failed to recruit enough people to man the gates.
The army and the police are now plugging the yawning safety gaps, while small children in the East End of London point and gaze upwards at the surface-to-air missiles positioned on top of the city’s highest tower blocks.
It’s been a bit of an Olympic nightmare really, but for the ordinary paying public, it’s the over-commercialisation of the Games that have stuck in the throat more than anything. The Olympics are supposed to enshrine values that money can’t buy. No-one is any doubt that sponsorship is a necessary and welcome part of the modern Games, but were Coca-Cola and McDonald’s the right people to make nice with?
They’ve paid, along with the likes of Adidas, £720 million for the rights to sponsor the Games, and don’t you forget it. Those lucky enough to have tickets will confuse Pepsi and Coke at their peril.
There are almost 300 enforcement officers policing branding and protecting the rights of the sponsors. Those who have fallen foul of draconian Olympic copyright rules include the owner of a bagel shop, whose window display saw him threatened with court, a florist who was ordered to take down Olympic rings made from paper tissue and a butcher who was told his finest sausages breached the rules.
Even a kindly pensioner, who knitted a 2012 doll for a church jumble sale almost ended up knitting in jail.
But let’s put the logos and officials-only traffic lanes, along with the money and medals to one side. Maybe Danny Boyle’s £26m party in the park will save the day. While we’ve fretted over safety and cost, and rolled our eyes every time the phrase “Olympic family” is mentioned, Boyle has been quietly putting together his end of the bargain. We’ve been like children starved of official Olympic products (Coke and Big Macs). It’s time to gorge on the opening ceremony. This is where we’ll take our fill of goodness and glory and fireworks.
Like a flailing long-distance swimmer, London 2012 has emerged from the cold and choppy waters of endless criticism, gasping and bruised, but ready all the same.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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