World looks to London as the Games begin

The Olympic Stadium is lit up by fireworks for the Opening Ceremony rehearsal © Getty Images

Tonight, the Olympics will kick off with a much-anticipated Opening Ceremony. London 2012 is the product of billions of pounds and years of graft – but is it true to the Olympic spirit?

After years of preparation, the Games are finally beginning. Tonight, every seat in London’s brand-new Olympic Stadium will be filled for a spectacular opening ceremony. Farm animals and rain clouds will feature, and over 10,000 of the world’s greatest athletes will represent 204 different nations.

Beyond the running track, Olympic fever is taking over. Jubilant communities have been lining the streets to watch the procession of the torch. Around the world, crowds will watch events on public screens. London will fill with tourists as millions clamour to see the Games first-hand.

For the next three weeks, all this will serve the spirit of Olympism – a ‘philosophy of life, which places sport at the service of humankind’. The Olympics are meant to be about much more than running the fastest or jumping the highest. They are a celebration of treasured values in sport and society.

These noble ideals can be traced back to educationalist Pierre de Coubertin. Inspired by the Olympics of Ancient Greece, he thought sport was a civilising way to help people grow through struggle. Competition, he believed, could bring warring cultures together and encourage tolerance and respect.

In 1896 he made his sporting ideal a reality, by creating the first modern Olympics. The competition was held in Athens, and included just 14 countries.

This year’s Olympics will be very different to those Games. London 2012 takes place in a 500-acre park, where big businesses like McDonald’s and Coca Cola have paid millions for exclusive advertising rights. A high-profile business fair, aimed at attracting £1 billion of investment into the UK, will be held in the Olympics’ honour.

Some are unhappy with this commercialisation – and it is one of many gripes about the Games. Millions of people have failed to get seats for events, making the ticketing system look expensive and unfair. Missiles on residential flats and thousands of soldiers have provoked worries of heavy-handed security. For many, the most infuriating thing in a recession is the Olympian cost – at £9 billion, triple what was originally estimated.

The Olympic Spirit?

Some believe the organisers of London 2012 have strayed too far from the Olympic ideals. They think the Games are focusing on showing Britain off to the world and generating huge profits for big business. Rather than personal effort and unity through sport, London 2012 is about expense and show.

Others disagree. More money and corporate involvement just mean a bigger, better Games – with more opportunities for more people to share in the excitement and inspiration. London 2012, they say, will be an exceptional celebration of the Olympic spirit.

You Decide

  1. Will London 2012 stay true to de Coubertin’s Olympic ideals?
  2. How might sport and sporting events have a positive impact on society?

Activities

  1. Watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony, and write a journalistic review of the event. Think about whether it communicates the original ideals of the Olympism, or if it embraces other values.
  2. Read the lyrics to the original Olympics hymn. Write an alternative anthem, communicating what you think are the most important things in the modern Games.

Some People Say...

“I don’t want anything to do with the Olympics.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How can I get involved in the Games?
If you aren’t lucky enough to get to London during the Olympics, events will be shown by broadcasters all over the world. Young people can also join in the fun – and access exciting opportunities – through the 2012 education programme. International Inspiration trains coaches and teachers, and links up with international schools. So far, it has helped over 12 million young people get involved in sport. For more information, check out the website in the links section.
Will it influence Britain’s economy?
Governments don’t host huge events like the Olympics to be charitable. They are thought to bring trade and business to a country, increase its standing and respect internationally, and bring planeloads of tourists, who spend plenty of money.

Word Watch

Procession of the torch
For the past 70 days, the Olympic torch has been carried around the UK by celebrities and ‘local heroes’ from all over the country. It has passed through over 1,000 towns and cities, with the aim of drawing attention to the attractions Great Britain has to offer.
Olympics of Ancient Greece
The first Olympics took place around 776 BC in Olympia, in Ancient Greece. Sportsmen from different Greek states competed in sports like chariot racing, wrestling, and pentathlon. Winners of the events won a wreath of laurel leaves.
Advertising rights
Because Olympic sponsors paid for exclusive advertising rights, there are strict restrictions on their competitors using the Olympics for advertising. That means businesses that try to use the Olympic logo to advertise their brand could be slapped with a big fine. It also means that products from competitors of McDonald’s, for example, or payment cards that are not Visa, will not be allowed on the Olympic site.

Subjects

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