When New Delhi wins its Olympics bid
If the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games was all about might, London 2012 showcased what is right: health for all, deaf children singing the national anthem, seven young people lighting the flame, 500 construction workers giving a guard of honour to the Olympic torch carrier, Suffragettes, women athletes and nursing to name only a few.
China was all about hundreds of dancers doing their thing in unison to clockwork precision. The North Koreans do it even better with their synchronised stadium art, where thousands of trained North Koreans present a kind of human video wall with coloured cards and uniforms.
By contrast this week saw British soft power at its best. The unique thing about the show was that it drew upon British history (the best bits obviously – you’d have to be a bit of a masochist to dwell on your former Empire) to highlight some contemporary universal values.
These include health for all, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and the rights of the disabled. Whereas in Beijing the awful authorities wouldn’t show a beautiful nine-year-old singer because she had buckteeth, in London we had a mixed choir of deaf and hearing children singing the national anthem.
At the New Delhi Commonwealth Games and the Beijing Olympics, the poor were walled out of public view as some sort of an embarrassment. In Beijing, tenements housing the poor were razed to make for Olympics construction. In Delhi, workers died building the Games. In London, the guard of honour given by 500 of the Games builders – both men and women – was an unforgettable sight.
The London Games holds many lessons for India. One of these days, New Delhi will no doubt win the bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. To do that successfully, however, it must get the fact that the Games are more than just about games.
Among the flag bearers was Shami Chakrabarti, the Indian-origin woman who heads the civil rights group Liberty. Her inclusion was a surprise because she is a high-profile critic of governments. And there was Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager whose murder in 1993 led to the London police being accused of “institutional racism.”
Outside the glamour of the ceremony in London, there will be things to watch out for:
· These are the first Games where every team has women athletes.
· The legacy of the Games ensures that the deprived East end of London will be totally transformed. New infrastructure, new jobs and new Olympic Park are creating “sustainable social, economic and sporting legacies at home in the UK and around the world.” Promoting diversity was at the heart of the building works.
· These are the greenest Games to date, and Londoners are expecting a massive boost to the city’s public transport infrastructure.