It often seems to me that the more hype there is surrounding something, the easier it is to be cynical about it. This can certainly be said of the massive international phenomenon that is the London 2012 Olympics. The word ‘Olympics’ was drilled into the collective brain of the nation so often by the media that many of the more pessimistic among us were sick of them before they even started. Does this event deserve the publicity, or is it, as one Tory MP recently said of the opening ceremony, “leftie multicultural crap”?
Nowhere was the hype level higher pre-Olympics than the Capital itself. I was lucky (?) enough to be in London for the three days before the opening ceremony, and I was not alone. As part of LUSU Involve’s ‘Lancaster Goes Global’ project, over eighty international students from India, Malaysia, China, Pakistan and Palestine recently visited Lancaster University for a three week cultural exchange. Part of the program was the three day visit to London. This caused a lot of excitement among our guests, not least because of the Olympic-fuelled international spotlight on the city pre-games. Publicity levels were predictably high, with statues of the mascots lining the Thames and the five rings hanging proudly from Tower Bridge.
As hectic as it was trying to navigate the tubes with a tailback of over eighty camera-toting students, it was both interesting and encouraging to see the response of our international friends to the games. Many proved to be avid sportsmen and women, and though we left the city before the games started (we weren’t brave enough for those crowds), they seemed to enjoy the experience, and appreciate the hype.
It was not the last time sport came into play in our little program. We also held a sports day, including football, cricket, and some of the most intense tug-of-war I have ever seen in my life. The visiting students were split into Lancaster colleges for teams, with representatives from each country in every group. It had excitement, it had intensity, it had a guy being accidentally dragged along the ground on the end of a rope. It was our own mini Olympics, with less events and considerably less expensive medals. In case you’re interested, Grizedale won.
More importantly, there’s something pleasing in the diversity of a football match with five different nationalities playing on one team. It’s not exactly the same concept as the Olympics, but the idea of different countries and cultures coming together to run around in circles, compete and genuinely have a good time remains. I won’t say that sport doesn’t create tension. I could feel that much as a friend and I tentatively cheered for Chris Hoy in the cycling while surrounded by animated Malaysians cheering for a rival. But it’s friendly tension, when handled properly. Sport isn’t war.
Though I’m not a particularly sporty person myself, I can’t deny its value, and I certainly can’t deny the significance of an event as huge as the Olympics in bringing different cultures together under a single country’s metaphorical roof. There are still plenty of people in Britain who cringe and shudder when they hear words like ‘multicultural’ or ‘diversity’. They shouldn’t. These are good things. Thanks to the internet and planes, this world is getting smaller. It stands to reason that we spend more time with nations different to our own, get to know our neighbours – what better way to do so than by gathering together for a gigantic sports day? It’s a shame the Olympics don’t have tug-of-war, but the outcome is still worthwhile, and certainly deserves a deal of hype.