The ‘Olympics’ are now so gagantuan they defy logic. Every city that hosts does so knowing it risks disasters outside its control. Terrorism in Munich and Atlanta, boycotts in Los Angeles and Moscow, student massacre and the Black power salute in Mexico, run-away budgets for Montreal and London(?) and doping, Seoul, Sydney, Athens et al.
Already, Beijing has murder, doping and a war. Not bad for day one.
With all these factors outside their control, it is not too surprising that all host cities put so much energy and so much money into the one element that is in their control, the Opening Ceremony.
As Lois Jacobs, who was responsible for producing the magical opening ceremony at Athens, puts it “A ceremony is a huge opportunity for the host city to make a statement about itself to its own people and to the world at large. With an audience of 4.3 billion, it’s the biggest brand experience or excercise in brand communication that you can get”.
Television audiences bacame seriously global in 1964, with the first live cross-Pacific broadcasts. Tokyo took advantage with an opening ceremony drawing the same superlatives we are reading now for Beijing. Every city since then has garnished similar praise. (In London in 1948, with post-war austerity and only a radio audience to impress, a military band and the release of 2,500 pigeons were ceremony enough.)
It is too early to assess the value of this stunning opening ceremony to the ‘world at large’. However, to the most important audience, ‘its own people’, the people of China, the value will be incalculable. Pride replacing the ‘years of humiliation’, a concept unfamiliar to most of us until recent press reports.
A final thought. Perhaps the greatest ever opening ceremony pitch was Berlin. Masterminded by Goebbels, immortalised on fim by Leni Riefenstahl, it gave Nazi Germany respectability!