One world, one dream. That’s how China envisaged the Olympic Games in Beijing four years ago. As one of the most dynamic developing regions in the world, the country had to show its rising power as well as showcase its prowess as a sporting nation. For a country that did not participate in the Games till 1984 in Los Angeles (it stopped participating after its first appearance in Helsinki Games in 1952), getting the rights to host one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles was in itself a grand achievement. But the ride wasn’t smooth. There were doubts whether a regimented system could pull off the event and match the magnitude of those held in the West; and whether a Communist nation would be as hospitable and cooperative when hordes of reporters descend on its capital.
The Games were not just trouble-free — except for some haze or sporadic instances of human rights activism — they were perhaps the best-ever Games in the history of the multi-discipline event. Beijing has set a standard that will be difficult for any country — developed or not — to match.
If London was expected to upstage Beijing, the pre-Games jitters have definitely left a tangy taste. As compared to London, where chaos in the city hit the headlines, Beijing was definitely a breeze. London has started off well with a glitzy opening ceremony, which is not as extravagant or grand as Beijing but definitely up there with the best.
The run-up to the 2008 Games was not what the Chinese would have liked. Like most Games, it was volatile with the Western media targeting China’s human rights violation record, unfinished construction and, of course, the blanket of haze that the authorities claimed would affect the performances of the athletes. The organisers, however, were confident about easing traffic woes and ensuring a clearer sky. What really stood out was the way the details were worked out.
What China did on the evening of August 8, 2008, will be remembered forever. The opening ceremony silenced its critics. The Bird’s Nest — the main Olympic stadium where the ceremony began — with its intricate lattice work, mammoth concrete structure interspersed with historical motifs, symbolised the new rising China. The verve inside the stadium was astounding; the music intoxicating; and the programme as diverse as it could be. Few countries are as rich in culture and ethnicity as China — it has around 56 ethnic groups. With more than 5,000 years of history, China is one of the world’s oldest nations.
Mesmerising is the only word that can describe that opening ceremony. It showcased China’s march into an era that’s evolving into a new world — the world of advancement. Once the ceremony was over, the focus shifted on to the Games, putting an end to all talk of human rights violations or prejudice.
Beijing is notorious for its traffic jams. This is one area about which even the International Olympic Committee was worried. But Beijing surmounted these issues in its own way. Cars with even and odd numbers were allowed on alternate days. Dedicated lanes for the Olympic family, like in all major Games, were created. In that fortnight, not once was anyone with an accreditation card was seen cursing or making excuses for getting stuck in a traffic jam.
Another concern was that of language. In China, everything is in Chinese. But volunteers were present everywhere to guide people. They knew how to put on a radiant smile and offer help. As a result, no one got lost, no one got into a wrong media bus and no athlete or spectator had any major complaint.
Strikes, demand for overtime payments from bus and train workers or protests against the quality of food were unheard of in Beijing. For that matter, there were hardly any such complaints during the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG) . Yes, there were a lot of forgettable incidents before the CWG began. It’s also true that the Olympic Games are a different ballgame in terms of sheer magnitude. But once the CWG got underway, everything fell into place. Traffic jams, security concerns, the hygiene of the Games village etc slowly gave way to more optimism on the street. There were some glitches, but those were negligible.
So the big question now is: Will London be able to match Beijing, and to some extent, Delhi? Two days into the Games, it seems that it will fall by a few notches. This is London’s time. The world has trained its eyes on the British Isles. After August 20, when the last temporary structure connected to the 2012 Olympics will be pulled down, it will be interesting to see what sobriquet the London Games will attract.
For London, the moment of truth has arrived.