Ken Livingstone of the Labour Party, who was the first mayor of London, had wanted London to host the Olympics in order to use the event to foster the development of less developed immigrant areas of East London. But the joy of London’s qualifying to host the Olympics turned into shock the next day with bomb attacks on the London subway and municipal buses. As the damage caused by the subway attacks was being repaired, the security gaps and terror agenda began to be discussed.
The security problems of London, a city which has the second most extensive underground railway system after Shanghai, has always remained as a top agenda item since then. In 2008, Livingstone lost the election to Boris Johnson, from the Conservative Party, the grandson of journalist Ali Kemal Bey. Now, the 9.3-billion-pound investment was entrusted to Johnson under the supervision of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The work in the 2.5 square kilometer area where Europe’s largest Olympic Village would be established continued at full throttle. All points in the city, which has a 600-kilometer long railway system and the world’s most utilized subway system in the world, were connected to the Olympic Village via station routings and detours. The light rail system established within the Olympic Village as well as the 34 different centers in various parts of the city where contests in 26 different branches would be held were integrated with the central subway system. Serving for 140 million passengers with its mass transport system and five airports connected to the railway system, London sent the message of readiness for the Olympics.
A total of 176 kilometers of special lanes were added to the highways inside and outside London for specific use by Olympic delegations only. The riots that broke out in August 2011 created concerns about security in the suburbs close to the Olympic Village. The Olympic Committee’s 10th and final visit occurred in March 2012. The committee announced that London was ready for the Olympics.
Calling in extra security
In London, which will host a total of 4 million people from outside the country, the executives of the security company G4S confessed that they were not quite ready for the Olympics, rekindling the debate. The British government came to the rescue of G4S by sending 3,500 soldiers to fill the private security company’s personnel deficit. Currently, 12,500 police officers, 13,500 soldiers and 13,000 private security guards are providing security for the Olympics. The facilities built for the Olympics, visited by more than 10,000 athletes and trainers, 14,000 officials and 20,000 press members, were designed so as to be converted to apartments for 3,600 households after the organization.
The London Olympics also stand out as the carbon footprint of the event has been calculated and the damage to the environment has been minimized. London’s largest shopping center, and other places built near the Olympic Park are expected to make direct contributions to the country’s budget by creating new jobs. The facilities were arranged not only to serve the delegations arriving for the Olympics in the best way, but also to ensure that Muslim sportspeople and officials can perform their worship during the holy month of Ramadan.
The London 2012 logo, the design of which cost 400,000 pounds, and which was disliked by 80 percent of the people interviewed by the BBC, was targeted by various groups. Designed by Wolff Olins, the renowned brand consult firm, the logo was first criticized by Iran for the Hebrew phrase “Zion.” Iran applied to the Olympic Committee, demanding that the logo be rejected for having a racist message. A New York Times article said it resembled a broken swastika, which Nazis were inspired to create from Hindu art. The logo also created a medical issue. The TV ad which showed the logo in an animation of sparkling colors was removed from circulation upon an application by the charity Epilepsy Action. The charity found out that sparkling colors in the Olympic logo and on the bodies of sportspeople might have triggered epileptic seizures, and eventually managed to ensure the removal of the animation from the website. This served as a good example of individual rights and liberties mattering in Britain, which is a model social state.
The maps showing how to gain access to the Olympic sites were displayed at major transport stations in the country. The Olympic enthusiasm was shared by an overwhelming majority of the public in the events held across the Britannia. The country sought to use Olympic events as a good opportunity to encourage the youth to sports.
In Britain, state-administered education starts at the age of 3.5 and every child at the age of 5 participates in sports. Given the fact that sports are encouraged even at young ages and there is easy access to all sports facilities across the country and schools cooperate with sport clubs, one can easily understand how Britain managed to attend the Olympics with 541 athletes.
The London Olympics were also supported by cultural programs. As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, players from 37 countries staged Shakespearean plays in their own languages. The Oscar-winning film “Chariots of Fire” (1981), about how two British athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics, hit the theaters again. Historic photos about Olympics, the personal belongings of the sportspeople who attended Olympics, documentaries, various cultural programs and events spread to the whole country. The torch fired up in the ancient city of Olympia, Greece, was brought to the Britain on May 19, 2012. A total of 8,000 people from all walks of life, elected by the public, toured the torch for 70 days all over Britain. The carriers of the torch, including popular names, medal-winning sportspeople, the disabled, and the people who are loved in their neighborhood were met with immense interest from people of all ages during the torch carrying ceremonies.
An irreverent start to the games
The director of the opening ceremony of the Olympics was Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of the film “Slumdog Millionaire.” In the musical shows that depicted how Britain transitioned from the rural life to industrial revolution and modern times, British art, design and promotion geniuses proved themselves once again. The mini film, aired just before the Queen came into the stadium, and showing how James Bond (Daniel Craig), the paragon of the British intelligence, accompanied Queen Elizabeth, the most magnificent living monarch, as they jumped from a helicopter and parachuted over main landmarks of the city and landed on the stadium, was very impressive.
Britain’s every major figure was given a place in the well-designed opening ceremony. At the 1908 London Olympics, athletes were for the first time allowed to parade carrying the flags of their respective countries. This traditional parade started when the Queen took her place at the stadium.
Analysis of the firsts of the Olympics and the countries’ Olympic teams are also very important. Olympic delegations and the success at the games make their way into the countries’ power rankings. Palestine’s attending the parade with five athletes was important for the country, which was able to attend the games despite poverty and sorrows. With 46 percent of the athletes being women, the London Olympics witnessed another first. In this context, Saudi Arabia, a country harshly criticized by the media for its women’s rights and human rights policies, but backed by Western countries, included two sportswomen in its delegation.
Another detail was that the G8 countries attended the Olympics with large delegations.
One hundred and four years ago Aleko Moullos was the lone sportsman in the Ottoman delegation to the 1908 Olympics, but this time Turkey was represented by 114 athletes. This was a promising development for a growing country.
After the Queen announced that the games may begin, the names invited to carry the Olympic flag for its raising were meaningful as they symbolize our hopes for the future:
There are Argentina-born music genius Daniel Barenboim, the first Jew who became a Palestinian citizen; Sally Becker, a former leader of the British charity Operation Angel, who dedicated her life to help the sick and wounded people, known particularly for her work in Bosnia and Kosovo; Leymah Gbowee, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to protect Africa’s disempowered women; Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, who is considered one of the best marathon runners in Olympic history; British mother Doreen Lawrence, whose son was killed by a white racist gang in 1993 and who then dedicated her life to combating racism; former Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva, who inspired Latin America with his campaigns for the protection of nature; Asian British human rights advocate Shami Chakrabarti, who has promoted individual rights and freedoms and opposed all kinds of discrimination; United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Muhammad Ali, who, leaving a restaurant upon hearing that they were not providing any service to anyone other than whites 42 years ago, threw the gold medal he won in Rome Olympics to the Ohio river and who dedicated his life to human rights advocacy with his inspiration from Islam, and who is the legendary boxer who has managed to become the hero of everyone, not only of Muslims, and who, in the words of Bill Clinton, paved the way for Barack Obama’s being elected as the first black president. Although he could hardly walk due to his advanced illness, thousands applauded Ali enthusiastically.
After the raising of the Olympic flag, it was time for the kindling of the Olympic torch. After its 70-day trip across Britannia, the torch was delivered to David Beckham, who carried it with a speedboat over the Thames, and transferred it to Sir Steve Redgrave, the English rower who won gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games, and finally to six young athletes who were waiting in the stadium. These six athletes kindled the big Olympic torch and gave a start to the games.
At the closing ceremony, slated for August 12, the Olympic flag will be handed over by London Mayor Boris Johnson to Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who will host the 2016 Olympics. İstanbul will wait for the meeting of the Olympic Committee, to be held in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7, 2013, for a decision for who will host the 2020 Olympics. If the committee decides İstanbul is as ready as London, İstanbul’s new mayor will receive the Olympic flag from Rio in 2016. The world may see a completely different Turkey in 2020. Who knows?
* İlhan Gökalp is the Zaman’s daily’s UK representative.