From Danny Boyle’s industrial revolution to the Saudi Arabian team allowing women to compete for the first time, there is no denying that regardless of any personal opinion one may hold on the overall feat of London 2012, cultural diversity is not something which was brushed aside without a thought.
Whether intentional or otherwise, the myriad of countries embracing the 2012 games formed a colourful and jubilant mixture who, for the most part, were more than happy to intertwine their culture around the stem of the beautifully British games.
I admit that I was sceptical; what would make the 30th Olympiad better than any other attempt? Why should London 2012 deserve all this hype? Could Seb Coe (and co…) really deliver what was promised to be one of the biggest feats of the 21stcentury? It seems, however, that something was achieved without them really trying.
Yes, we had the Spice Girls arriving on five personalised London cabs (shake it to the left if you’re having a good time…), yes Rowan Atkinson and Eric Idle established their places as two of the best British comedic talents ever…and yes, the Queen sky-dived out of a helicopter with Bond. But the main paradigm underpinning London 2012, from what I could gather, is just how willingly every country who took part…well, took part.
Despite a few hiccups involving cheating table tennis teams, controversial one hundred-metre competitor choices and a hench Belarussian ‘woman’ being disqualified from winning gold in the shot put, the spirit and value of the games was embodied in the passion and determination that every competitor displayed.
A particular highlight was the men’s two-hundred metre final. Usain Bolt may have won, but Johan Blake and Warren Weir who came second and third respectively did their bit to establish Jamaica’s legacy as a country capable, year upon year, of producing a certain caliber of athlete. Fitting, really, that Jamaica should have won their independence from Britain 50 years ago in 1962, and even more fitting that the streets of London were overtaken by a lot of noisy Jamaicans who just wanted to have a really good time.
The smile on the face of the first Saudi Arabian women allowed to compete in the history of the Games sent a message to both the Saudi government and the world: things are changing. Sarah Attar may have crossed the 800m line 30 seconds later than the penultimate athlete and Wojdan Shaherkani, the Saudi female competing in the 78kg+ Judo, was beaten (by quite a lot) in her first match by the Puerto Rican Melissa Mojica. But they were not just in London to compete; their mere presence bears much historical significance. One sporting event might not completely turn around the treatment women still face on a daily basis in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei (the three countries which allowed women to compete for the first time in London 2012) and of course oppression is still a massively contentious issue. Yet, it is a step in the right direction. With enough positive energy and enthusiasm, the acceptance of women in traditionally patriarchal pursuits from such countries may eventually lead the way to higher gender equality across a broader spectrum; the attitude and acceptance present during London 2012 no doubt shaped this.
Now with all these cultural breakthroughs underpinning the spirit of the Games, it would be easy to forgo the Olympic traditions which have for so long been an integral part of their history. Endless Twitter and Facebook updates of “WHY do they keep doing everything in French first?!? #wespeakEnglish”, “WHY are Greece coming out first, they’re before ‘H’ and after ‘G’!” and “OMG #TeamGB are taking AGES to turn up, want to go to bed!!” prove that perhaps Olympic legacies are not as well-known as the organisers may have assumed. Well, I shall put you out of your misery now, dear tweeters.
The French spoken before the English announcements is a tradition dating back to 1896, in honour of Pierre de Coubertin, who founded what we now know as the ‘modern Olympics’. Whilst the style and diversity of the races and events may differ somewhat from 116 years ago, the spirit of teamwork, patriotism and peace still remain – one of de Coubertin’s main aims was to promote a lack of conflict, a factor still ringing true to this day.
As for the Greeks coming out first, well it seems only fair; they are the traditional and first hosts of both the ancient and modern Olympic Games (not because of a hilarious joke involving the state of their economy). It follows that as the current hosts, the Great British team waited from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe until it was their turn to parade the Union Flag around the stadium. We may have all been falling asleep into our glasses of wine/mugs of decaffeinated coffee by this point, but it was worth the wait to watch (most of) the 556 athletes proudly bearing the flag and then undoubtedly hurrying off to bed to prepare themselves for two weeks worth of strenuous work!
The Olympics 2012 has been a great asset to cultural diversity, acceptance and gender relations and we cannot forget Team GB itself. A poll by the Guardian found that 75% of the those asked supported the British team regardless of ethnicity, with only 13% of the remaining saying more loyalty was felt towards British-born competitors. With such stars as Mo Farah in their midst, ethnic diversity is more than just an asset to Team GB; it has inspired not just a generation, but a whole new sub-culture of Brits.
Sceptics such as myself can now begin to call themselves true believers of the Olympic spirit and whilst there is still a long way to go until a sporting event can instil world peace and harmony between bickering nations, Pierre de Coubertin would be immensly proud of all that has been achieved.