IT’S ALL IN THE GAMES

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is

Friday - - Humour -

As I saw a video of a friend’s kid per­form­ing at his an­nual sports day, I fi­nally un­der­stood the rea­son for the lengthy gap be­tween ma­jor sport­ing events such as the Olympic Games or the foot­ball World Cup. It isn’t to en­sure that cham­pi­ons have a longer reign or so po­ten­tial cham­pi­ons can train or in­deed to give of­fi­cials the time to fight with one an­other till a few emerge on top. No, it is to give host coun­tries enough time to work on their open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies.

Faster, higher, stronger is only one as­pect of the Games. There is, too, weirder, stranger, more mu­si­cal. The first ap­plies to the ath­letes. The next lot to the dancers, chore­og­ra­phers, school­child­ren, con­tor­tion­ists and other random per­form­ers who strut their stuff at the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies.

It is bad man­ners to crit­i­cise cul­tural ex­trav­a­gan­zas. You have to say nice things – it shows you are a per­son of cul­ture. Just as the per­form­ers do a lot with­out say­ing any­thing, those who write paeans in praise are trained to write a lot with­out say­ing any­thing. Words like ‘colour­ful’, ‘heart­warm­ing’, ‘unique’, ‘in­cred­i­ble’ have to be in­cluded in such writ­ing or you will never be in­vited to an­other ex­trav­a­ganza again.

It is easy to let the Olympic spirit get to you. For a few days fol­low­ing the Olympics, ev­ery­body runs pre­tend­ing he is Usain Bolt or swims con­vinced he is Michael Phelps. All to the good. But if we im­i­tated the other as­pects of the Olympics, we’d be in trou­ble.

Imag­ine throw­ing a din­ner party, and forc­ing guests, when they ar­rive, to sit through a cul­tural ex­trav­a­ganza. I know this hap­pens of­ten – the three-year-old daugh­ter is forced to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep, the eight-year-old son to bowl like R Ash­win… But what if it were to go fur­ther? Com­plete with an en­act­ment of fu­ture din­ners planned, ex­cerpts from re­cent movies seen, par­o­dies of rel­a­tives?

And then din­ner is served, at which point the real busi­ness of the evening

Say­ing NICE things about cul­tural ex­trav­a­gan­zas shows you’re cul­tured. Just as per­form­ers do a lot with­out say­ing ANY­THING, those who write paeans in praise are TRAINED to write a lot with­out say­ing any­thing

– the eat­ing – gets un­der­way.

As soon as the first guest makes the noises as­so­ci­ated with good­byes, with thank yous and we-must-do-this-agains, imag­ine hold­ing ev­ery­body up with a clos­ing cer­e­mony. Sure, not as for­mal or struc­tured as the open­ing cer­e­mony, and with the ac­cent on min­gling and jok­ing with newly-made friends.

The Olympics, of course, do the cer­e­monies bet­ter than any­where else. But when other sports bor­row that idea, and in­deed when school sports days open with open­ing cer­e­monies and close with clos­ing cer­e­monies, I think we go too far.

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