(AsiaNews) - London is getting ready for the official start of the 30th
Olympiad (27-July-12 August) amid gaffes, large-scale investments and non-sporting
happenings, big and small. Set for 9 pm local time, the opening ceremony at the
Olympic Stadium will be seen by a worldwide audience of four billion people. For
the British capital, this is the third time as host of the world's foremost
sporting event after 1908 and 1948. About 10,500 athletes are expected to take
part in representation of 205 nations; an additional 4,200 will follow for the Paralympics.
The mega gathering will unfold over 17 days (actually 19 considering that women's
football began on Wednesday), include 302 events, in 26 disciplines on 36
sporting venues built for the occasion.
British economy, the Games will be a bonanza. But preparations for London 2012
have felt the bite of Britain's economic crisis. Costs have doubled to US$ 15
billion, raising fears of a repeat of what happened to Greece, where a deep
financial crisis followed the Athens Games in 2004.
White House hopeful Mitt Romney and UK Prime Minister David Cameron exchanged barbs
over the issue. In response to the American, who spoke of setbacks
and "a few
things that were disconcerting" in the security area, the British leader said, "Look
at what we're capable of achieving as a nation, even in difficult times".
and contrary to Pierre de Coubertin's original spirit that "the most important
thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part," professionalism and
economic interests have prevailed, made worse by media, sponsors and investors,
as competition is pushed to its limits for maximum results. Qatar for example
is planning to invest 12 billion in the country.
Security costs have ballooned to US$ 850,000. Some 40,000 military and
civilian personnel have been deployed in the various venues. Overall, more
soldiers have been deployed in and around the UK on Olympic duty than in
Afghanistan. The FBI has also sent in about a thousand agents with many more
from other foreign secret services.
About 200,000 passes have been issued and 21,000 media professionals
(journalists and photographers) will cover the Olympics using 16,500 telephone
lines, 80,000 Internet connections and 1,800 wireless access points for a
tsunami of images and comments. A total of 642,000 person hours will be spent
to deliver the Games.
Still, even in the age of the Internet and multimedia, organisers have
not avoided some egregious errors, which have already inspired the phlegmatic
Brits to rename London 2012, the Gaffe Olympics.
The first one occurred on Wednesday before the women's football match
between North Korea and Colombia (won by the Asian team 2-nil). North Korean
players were presented on the stadium's giant screen side-by-side with the South
Korean flag, a major blunder, since the two Koreas are still technically at
war. The match itself began an hour later after the North Korean delegation
protested. Organisers issued an apology the next day.
The Olympics website also sported its own slip-ups worthy of a Monty Python
movie. A handful
of Olympians born in the Soviet Union were listed as having been born Russia.
entry for judo fighter Arsen Galstyan listed his place of birth as
"Armenia (RUS)", whilst fellow Armenian, boxer David Ayrapetyan, was
listed as having been born in "Baku (RUS)".
London 2012 webmasters showed poor political savvy, if not outright geographic
ignorance, in the entries of some athletes from the Caucasus.
Tsargush, the site said, hailed from "Gudauta (RUS)," a city in
Abkhazia, whilst Besik Kudukhov was born in "Yuzhnaya Osetia (RUS)," i.e. South
Ossetia. Although both regions broke away from Georgia and have been recognised
by Russia after a brief war with Georgia in 2008, they are still formally part
of Georgia, which has already sent a letter of protest to the London Games'
the Olympic village, some sign also contain major bloopers, especially in Arabic. The
vast and glitzy Westfield shopping centre displayed welcome signs in many
languages but printed the Arabic ones back-to-front, hard to read to say the
least; a bit like having "WELCOME TO LONDON" printed like "N O D N O L O T E M
O C L E W"
Coubertin's spirit is not completely forgotten. A 57-year-old Chinese farmer, Chen
Guanming, went on a
slow journey from China (two and half years) to London, crossing 16 nations, on
his three-wheel rickshaw in order to watch the opening ceremony. Now that he is
in the Olympic city, if he really wants to see the event, he has to hope for the
generosity of strangers because he does not have one of the 60,000 tickets for
the Games' big kickoff.
help from family and friends, our farmer got through Thailand's floods, crossed
the icy roads of Tibet and survived freezing temperatures in Turkey.
why he undertook his journey, he said he wanted to support the athletes and
"spread the Olympic spirit."
said he became inspired to come to London at the end of the Beijing Olympics in
2008, and now plans to take a ship to the US and Canada, before travelling to
Brazil for the 31st Olympiad in 2016.
his account cannot be independently verified; others can apparently vouch for
him. A video posted on YouTube
shows him in Rome, surrounded by curious passersby, seemingly backing his
his long journey, which saw him visit Vietnam, Pakistan and France,
was helped financially by local Chinese communities.