Along with Queen Elizabeth, my father will also be attending his second London Olympics this month. Young John, at aged 14, cheered the ‘Czech Locomotive’ Emil Zápotek to a 10,000 metre victory from high in the stands at Wembley during the 1948 Olympics. “The crowd was chanting, ‘Zápotek Zápotek Zápotek’, it was electrifying, but I hadn’t got my first pair of glasses yet, so I saw nothing!” he wistfully recalls. Fast forward 64 years and my parents will be spending the summer in Dorset where the Weymouth and Portland sailing events will be held; in fact the Olympics torch will be passing right by their front gate! The Olympics – though visible this time will be unrecognisable to my father and his generation.
London has the distinction of being the first city to host three Olympics. The first of which was in 1908, and the second was the long-anticipated post-war event attended by my father…and Emil Zápotek…and the queen… (did I already say that?)
Ironically, the post-war Olympics, dubbed the ‘Austerity Games’, is followed this year by a 9 billion pound event (nearly five times original estimates, with some analysts reckoning that expenses such as bonuses, upgrade of existing infrastructure, etc., will spiral costs to over 24 billion pounds) which is being launched during a EU-sweeping austerity drive. The ’48 games, which cost just over 760,000 pounds, was attended by 58 nations – bitterness overcoming sportsmanship, Germany and Japan were not invited – while this year 216 nations will be competing (The Vatican City, Kosovo and South Sudan won’t be joining in the fun and games this time round). Interestingly, the Austerity Games yielded a profit of 20,000 pounds after tax, a figure unlikely to be exceeded this year.
In ’48, male athletes talked of being given a pair of y-fronts and a track suit as well as being issued travel coupons for public buses, though they had to supply their own food, while this year, well, let’s just say that most athletes are not going to be out of pocket. There isn’t much that is austere about this coming event.
The 1948 games were also the first televised Olympics, even though there were only 88,000 televisions in the UK with an estimated domestic viewing audience of 500,000. Today? Well, the BBC is planning on 5,000 hours of coverage to be viewed by a worldwide audience of over four billion. There weren’t even four billion people around in ’48! Interestingly the ’48 games were also the first to use (rudimentary) computer technology, which was recently developed during the war, offering the first mobile television control room, while this year promises over 107 technology-supported venues.
The motto for this year’s Olympics is ‘inspire a generation’, which frankly, sounds like a Levi ad campaign. And coming four years after the blockbuster mega hit of Beijing, London is going to have a lot to prove…and inspire.
Another much-touted facet of this event is that it will be the first Olympics which will calculate its carbon foot print. The Green Olympics, as organisers like to call it, promises low waste, low emissions and green transportation; however, the games are already appallingly below its 20% target use of renewable energy, managing at only 9%. Organisers have also claimed that this will be the greenest Olympics ever, which, frankly, I find rather verbose as I can’t image the 1948 event leaving anywhere near as much a carbon footprint as this one will. Not only that, world-wide protest against one of its major sponsors, the environmentally destructive Dow Chemical, is not helping with its green image. You can read all about this in Tom Fawthrop’s story in Citylife this month.
But in spite of cynical marketing, scandals, out of control budgets and hype, millions of people will still tune in worldwide to watch one of the greatest shows on earth. This time round, my father, in his dotage, hopes to be sitting on a park bench on some cliff with a glass of chardonnay and a sausage roll, watching the yachts sail by…and actually seeing it all. Though memories of Zápotek linger, he will most likely be chanting ‘Keerati Keerati Keerati’ in support of Keerati Bualong, the Thai sailor who recently won the gold medal at the Asian games and one of the first Thais to qualify for the Olympics sailing competition.
Keerati Keerati Keerati!
Citylife this month:
Some weighty issues; apart from a damning expose on the Dow Chemical’s sponsorship role in this year’s Olympics, our cover story, written by returning intern Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn, addresses the Governor of Chiang Mai’s latest drive to combat teen drinking, and Grace Robinson looks into the future of Chiang Mai tourism as we grapple with an identity crisis. We also look at the Korean expatriate community here in Chiang Mai and introduce you to some interesting K-pats. And I got a jammy press trip to Macau, so you can read all about it in these pages.