ALL HAIL BRILLIANT BRITANNIA
By CAMERON DUODU
When London was chosen – on 6 July 2005 – to stage the Olympic Games in 2012, not a few people thought the Games were going to the wrong city.
The Olympic Games are meant to demonstrate that despite differences in race and culture, the human race is one and that its various components can compete together fiercely without wishing to destroy each other.
Britain, under Tony Blair, had just taken part in a war, undertaken with the United States, that had made Britain enemies around the world. For the Iraqi people had no quarrel with the people of Britain. In fact, the man whom the US and Britain wanted to overthrow, Saddam Hussein, had been murdering the Iraqis, and in killing Iraqis to get rid of Saddam, the US and Britain were subjecting the Iraqi people to double punishment. Why should a country that engaged in such an unjust war be accorded the honour of staging a show that would illustrate the oneness of the human race?
But after two weeks of the Olympic Games opening in London, it is evident that only the truly recalcitrant can regret that the International Olympic Committee gave the Games to London, and not to the other contenders — Paris, Madrid, Moscow and New York. The most amazing thing, perhaps, is how the British populace has greeted the Games. The Olympics have sown in the British people, a new sense of self-esteem, which has spawned, in its turn, a new friendliness towards people from abroad. Well, generally speaking, for, naturally, there have been some exceptions.
You see, you love people who give you a good competition before you beat them! And Britain, at its current rate of earning medals, has been “winning” the Games hands down. Only China and the US are doing better than her, and those two do have much bigger populations.
“And ‘Johnny Foreigner’”? One might ask.
“Oh, he’s wonderful. We just happen to be better at the Games!”
Ah, yes. At long last, the entire British population are being taught to know who they really are in 2012. Their most widely acclaimed athlete, Jessica Ennis, is a beautiful woman with a smile that can charm a million hearts. Above all, she looks completely ‘aracial’ – if one might coin a word. Her father is Jamaican-born and her mother is British. But she’s so fair-skinned that she appears to be more suntanned than sun-DNA’d! (Pardon the expression, again!)
Actually, it was not until she won the heptathlon that I looked up her ancestry and realised that she was of mixed race. Yet she had been “the face of the Games” for many months, on posters erected all over the place, long before the Games opened. I’d just assumed she was white!
I can hear a sceptic ask, “But she’s not the only one? Did Britons become ‘race-blind’ after the exploits of Dame Kelly Holmes (double gold — 800m and 1500m
in Athens in 2008?”) Or Daley Thompson (decathlon gold in Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984?) Or Linford Christie (100m gold in Barcelona 1992)? Or Denise Lewis (heptathlon gold in Sydney 2000?)
Well, one might say that all these great British athletes (who are not white) had either been born in Britain or lived there for a long time. But not so, one of the British heroes of the moment – Mo Farah. Winner of the 10,000 metres gold, Farah was born in Somalia, and came to England at the age of 8, hardly speaking a word of English. But his victory in the London Olympics 10,000 metres brought tears to the eyes of a lot of Britishers, white and black alike.
Racist journalists who had written contemptuously about “Plastic Brits” (that is, Britons who were only British because they had obtained British passports) must have been left to wonder at how stupid they were (though such journalists wouldn’t ever accept the word, when applied to themselves – so arrogant are they.) But Mo Fasrrah showed them up for what they are.
Mo is now 29; if he moved to Britain from Djibouti (where he’d stayed, after he left Somalia) when he was only eight years old, and was educated and brought up in Britain, which country has the right to claim his loyalty? Which country had begotten his current consciousness? The one whose flag he covered himself with, as he strolled around the stadium, blowing kisses at the people; the one that gave him the wife and daughter, who rushed to greet him on the track – also wrapped in the Union Jack.
A columnist of the London Independent newspaper, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, situated Mo Farah’s victory in the context of modern British politics superbly when she wrote:
“Day after day, we are woken by the Today programme [of BBC Radio4] telling us how bad migration is, how bad we migrants are, as do most of the [British newspapers], fiendish trolls, the far right and some nicely spoken, respectable citizens too. You’d think we are all terrorists, sex offenders, killers of daughters, illegal entrants, alien criminals, and procreators of too many more of the above. The abuse heaped upon me for being an Asian Muslim incomer with attitude would kill and bury me if I let it. We fight back because we are worth it and so is the state we live in. That poetic paradox may explain why immigrants don’t give up.
“On Friday evening, getting on to a tube in Victoria, I met a Somali family wearing so much Union Jack kit they looked like a mobile tourist stall…They told me they were so happy because of Farah. They wanted their children to be like him, make this country proud of them. Near us a white family was just as joyous and for the same reasons. And I thought, this is brilliant, we are in it together. And then a smart-looking white woman in her forties muttered to a man she was with: ‘They’re not British. How dare they? Why don’t they go back where they came from?’ They got off at Sloane Square. You see, we immigrants can’t win. But we’ll never stop trying.”
What else but the Olympic Games have the scale to move people to engage in such an ironical behaviour, namely, a white person showing resentment at a black person’s applause for a black person who happened to be running for the white person’s nation! Who would have believed such a scenario if it had been invented in a work of fiction but not been observed by a journalist reporting actuality
The BBC has done its nation and its nationals a wealth of good by devoting 24 channels to the Olympics (48 if you count both the high-definition as against the ordinary channels). This means that almost every sport can be watched live. What a contrast to NBC in America, which could not, or would not, show even the greatest race on earth – Usain Bolt’s 100 metres – as a live spectacle, but only showed a recording of it? Was it because the NBC realised that the race would not be won by an American? If that is so, how parochial can NBC get?
I must admit, though, that the first 10 days or so of London2012 were incredibly irritating. Who wants to watch water polo? What is water polo anyway? Do they play it by chukka?
Or take synchronised swimming. Or sailing. Or curling.
So many games that require the use of equipment – sometimes very expensive and complex equipment – point to the origins of the Olympics as the playground of the rich West. When are they going to be chucked out, now that the Olympics have grown to be a truly global, not a Western, sporting enterprise? It is when the Africans, the Latin Americans and the Asians stop allowing themselves to be dazzled by Western cash and begin to pull the weight that their numbers gratuitously place in their hands. If they get together in Rio in 2016 and demand a reform of the Olympics schedule, they will b able to change it – if not immediately, at least some years later.
One perceptive Forum contributor spoke for many on the Internet when he posted this:
“We… are getting sick of all these Olympic swimming events. There’s an infinite number of them; synchronized diving, water polo, 100, 200 and 400, freestyle, 200m front crawl; 400m backstroke, 100m butterfly, 100 and 200, breast stroke, medleys, relays, individual races, concrete platform diving, springboard diving, synchronized diving…it never ends.
They don’t do that in track. Track is just different distances and a couple of relays; the only variation is the hurdles. To do the same in track we would have to have 100m forward, 200m backwards, 400m while swinging your arms out like a butterfly, sideways running relay, track polo and synchronized starting. It’s all nonsense, really. Running is running, and swimming should be swimming. The funniest one is the breast stroke. Bobbing up and down like that in their colourful head gear, they remind one of agama lizards flexing up and down on the asbestos roofs where we grew up.”
Other Internet Forum participants have been wondering when African canoe-men will be included in the rowing events; some are even asking for African cultural games – such as ampe or tumatu from Ghana – may be proposed for inclusion. These suggestions are not serious, of course, but they do make the point that too many of the Olympic events reflect a Western bias.
OVERHEARD: [From a Sky TV cricket commentary:]
NASSER HUSSEIN: Mickey [Michael Holding, legendary West Indian fast-bowler] Did you watch that Usain Bolt race?
HOLDING: Of course, I did. I went up to my hotel room, ordered room service and then stayed up to watch. Bolt gave Jamaica a very good present for its 50th birthday [its 50th independence anniversary]. Before the race, people were talking all sorts rubbish about the outcome; about Tyson Gaye beating Bolt, or even Gatlin beating him. But they were all silent after the race. Jamaica one and two! [Yohan Blake of Jamaica came second] What a birthday present for Jamaica”. (By the way, despite a mighty storm in Kingston, Jamaicans celebrated Bolt’s win in grand style, as the pictures on this website make clear:
Now, when cricketers stop talking about cricket and turn to athletics, then you know something earth-moving has happened. And, indeed, despite being beaten during his pre-Olympic preparations, and thereby creating doubts in some people’s minds regarding his full fitness for the Olympics, Usain Bolt had a relatively easy victory in London. He even set a new Olympic record, running the 100 metres in 9.63 seconds. As you read this, he might even be on the way to a new record in the 200m race, too. Didn’t I say it’s been a brilliant Olympic Games?