(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Earlier this week your columnist had the wonderful opportunity to go on a guided tour of the Olympic Park in London.
Situated in what was previously a rather wretched section of the eastern end of the city, the Olympic Park today is home to several splendid state-of-the-art buildings, training facilities and magnificent stadia, not all of which look like massive malignant tumours. But that is modern architecture for you.
Later this year, for about two and a half weeks, this Olympic Park will be the centre of the world. As an enraptured world media looks on, sportspeople from all over the world will assemble in London to compete against each other in a variety of disciplines. Meanwhile, for the nations involved it is an unsurpassed opportunity to highlight their achievements in sports, culture, and passport issuance to African athletes.
But my insincere cynicism apart - I really do adore it - the Olympics are still a remarkably heart-warming event. Who cannot be moved by the sight of the athletes parading into the stadium during the opening ceremony under their respective flags? I for one am eagerly looking forward to the large Indian contingent who usually dress in some spiffy colourful combination of ethnic and modern clothing - suede turquoise kurtas with lemon-green denim pyjamas for instance - for the opening event. This year, I am told, India will be sending a large contingent comprising some 70 sportspersons, 150 officials and support staff, and 435 members of President Pratibha Patil's immediate family who are going along for diplomatic and strategic purposes involving Harrod's.
My tour group in London also included several Chinese press persons and sports writers. Compared to Beijing's efforts in 2008 London's 'Austerity Olympics' seem almost quaint and old-fashioned. If you recall, China had blown billions of dollars on the 2008 Olympics. The opening ceremony alone had cost 100 million.
Crippled by a terrible economy, London has nothing like that kind of money. So some of their stadiums distinctly look like they were bought off the Internet. While Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium seemed like it had been sourced from the Louis Vuitton store off the Champs-Elyses in Paris, London's Olympic stadium, officially called The Olympic Stadium, looks remarkably like a repurposed petroleum refinery.
Nonetheless, my colleagues in the Chinese press sportingly asked questions about the facilities and preparations, and only rarely broke out into fits of giggles. Also they took hundreds upon thousands of photographs in various poses: people in front of stadium, people next to stadium, people pointing at stadium from a distance, people pointing at people who are already pointing at a stadium, funny clouds.
(If you're a rival nation wary of the Chinese, I have a useful strategy to crush their dominance of international affairs. Fly over China and airdrop all kinds of photogenic things into the country: Roman statues, paintings, fountains, Renaissance sculpture, Mohanlal. Wait for the entire nation to pull out their cameras. Invade while they are not looking.)
The English, meanwhile, are trying to make up for their lack of funding power with sheer enthusiasm. They now have a television campaign, starring celebrities like Stephen Fry, exhorting London locals to stay in the city for the event. (Many locals, terrified of Olympic traffic, security restrictions and crowds, are planning to flee to places like Mumbai.) Shops in the city are gearing up to entice visitors with Olympic merchandise and gimmicks like 20.12 per cent discount on milk chocolate models of the Queen or David Cameron. Personally, I cannot wait for the Olympics to start. All the financial and political nuances aside, it promises to be a genuine showcase of human athletic ability. Or, to quote one of the Chinese journalists on the tour, "This is very nice. How much in Euros?"
Sidin Vadukut is a columnist and foreign correspondent for the Mint-WSJ and contributor to NYT's India Ink