London ready to roll
Just one day to go before the curtain goes up on the greatest show of all, the big O. It is the Olympics, what did you think?
It is amazing how top Indians somehow always manage to wangle tickets to the big events but Karan Johar has slipped into town and arranged to take ‘koffee’ with Indian journalists on the afternoon of July 28, a day after the London Olympics begin with a Danny Boyle orchestrated opening ceremony. Johar wants to give a briefing on just how much he enjoyed the show and how he adores London where he simply loves locating his movies.
One thing is for sure, the director of Slumdog Millionaire who plans to give an impression of England as a “green and pleasant land” will not be pulling any stunts like dipping village boys in pools of human excreta (as might well have happened in the bad old days). Boyle knows he would get lynched if he tried to recreate his scene from his Oscar-winning movie, which has catapulted him from a talented British director to an A-list celebrity.
While everyone is looking forward to the start of London 2012 at 9 pm on July 27, the security services will be mightily relieved if the Games end on August 12 without any major incident. They know that with the eyes of the world on London, the Olympic Games are a visible, tempting target.
Having learnt from the Mumbai massacre, the police are making sure that the waterways (the Mumbai 26/11 terrorists came in a boat) around the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London, are secure. British security tends to be quietly efficient without being oppressive. This time they have mounted missile batteries on top of housing blocks ready to shoot down any approaching aircraft that threatens a 9/11 type of incident. Some photographs suggest that there are more soldiers in and around the park than there are competitors.
Over at RAF Northolt in North London, four Tornado jets have been deployed to keep the skies secure over London. Nobody is forgetting that 24 hours after Britain beat France in Singapore on July 6, 2005, and was awarded the right to hold the 2012 Olympics, celebrations were marred by four home-grown suicide bombers who devastated London, killing 52 and injuring more than 700.
MI5 Director-General Jonathan Evans predicts a successful and memorable London Olympics but has warned, “A return to state-sponsored terrorism by Iran or its associates, such as Hezbollah, cannot be ruled out.” The head of MI5 said “in back rooms and in cars on the streets of this country there is no shortage of individuals talking about wanting to mount terrorist attacks here”.
Delhi vs London
David Cameron has predicted that the recession might continue until 2020 since the British economy is being blighted by the Eurozone crisis. The country has invested £9.3 billion on the Games, which is four times the original estimate. But the infrastructure was ready in good time and there has been little of the kind of negative publicity that surrounded the Commonwealth Games in Delhi two years.
Having said that, however, several members of the Indian contingent have made the point that accommodation in London is "perfectly clean" but not quite as good as that offered in Delhi. One shooter , “Six of us have to share two toilets.” The food available to the athletes “certainly leaves much to be desired, with the ‘Indian food’ the worst,” the shooter added, “I am having to live on McDonalds. On the other hand, the training facilities are good.”
These games will throw up new stars of track and field just as Beijing produced Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who took gold in both the 100m and the 200m. The 100m will be over in less than 10 seconds but many are willing to pay £1,000 or even more for the privilege. On the night of the 100m final, over four billion viewers will watch him as he attempts to enter history books by becoming the first man ever to retain the 100m gold medal.
Understandably, spectators want to see the big names -- and there are plenty of them. But unlike the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 when the stadium was initially quite empty, due to computer glitches and other problems, here, ordinary Londoners have found it near impossible getting hold of tickets for the sell out popular events.
A proportion of the million tickets distributed by Locog (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) to participating nations have found their way on to the black market, thanks to corrupt officials overseas, according to a dossier prepared by The Sunday Times.
One Indian who hasn't had a problem getting hold of tickets is Lakshmi Mittal. The steel tycoon has managed to acquire 1,100 tickets though he insists his privileged position gave him “the right only to buy the tickets”.
One can't begrudge him his little perks - after all, he has provided steel worth £16.6m towards the £22.7m cost of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the dominating 114.5 metre tall sculpture adjacent to the main stadium in Stratford, East London.
It has been designed by another Indian - Bombay-born sculptor Anish Kapoor. If nothing else, Mittal’s guests can watch the games from the observation platform in what will probably be christened “the Mittal Monument”.
On Monday, he gave a reception in honour of 15 Indian competitors who have been supported by his Mittal Champions Trust. "We are expecting five medals," enthused Manisha Malhotra, Mumbai-based CEO of the trust.
Home is Hot
At the Games, Great Britain should have some home advantage. The TV cameras will linger on such glamour girls as Jessica Ennis in the Heptathlon. The Queen's granddaughter, Zara Phillips, has made it into the equestrian eventing team - on merit.
In cycling, where Britain is especially strong, there is Victoria Pendleton. She has become something of a pin-up girl who has posed for cover photographs for men's magazines, with her modesty protected by a bike. She is a pretty girl who became unpopular with her fellow competitors when they discovered she was having an affair with one of the team coaches - thereby breaking one of the unwritten rules of competition. People are supported to keep relationships professional. But she is now engaged to be married to the coach, Scott Gardner, an Australian sports scientist.
The Olympic flame was brought to Britain from Greece on May 18 by, among others, Princess Anne, David Beckham and Lord Coe who called it a “magical moment”.
On its 8,000 mile journey through the UK, it has travelled through 1,019 cities, towns and villages and been carried by 8,000 torchbearers, many of them, sadly, “corporate freeloaders or Z-list celebrities” (according to the Daily Mail). It is now in London.
The choice of the person picked to mastermind the £27m “Isles of Wonder” opening ceremony was unusual - Danny Boyle. The number inside the stadium will be 80,000, including Karan Johar. “The opening scene of the July 27 ceremony represents a traditional and idyllic view of the British countryside,” explained Boyle.
A billion people watching worldwide will see farmers tilling soil under possibly gentle artificially generated rain. Boyle is also binging in “12 horses, three cows, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese, 70 sheep and three sheep dogs”. Evoking William Blake’s poem Jerusalem, Boyle is recreating “a green and pleasant land”.
Some cynical commentators have suggested, tongue in cheek, that a truer representation would depict mini-skirted young women vomiting after a night out binge drinking, youths knifing each other in gang fights and boarded up shops in recession hit Britain. Big Ben will chime non-stop for three minutes to help ring in London 2012. But the British are nothing if not British. London Underground employees are to stage a work-to-rule from Friday in an Olympics-related dispute. On Monday a big part of the Underground network carrying passengers to and from the Olympic Park broke down. But it will probably be alright on the night.