OPENING CEREMONIES have rarely been chief writer RON REED’s cup of energy drink, and he might have found a kindred soul.
AT LONG last I may have found something in common with Charlie Windsor – apart from being about the same ancient vintage. Our future king – if he still is “our” monarch when he finally gets the gig – looked bored witless when the parade of nations started at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. So did I, probably. But I was already in a grumpy mood, having been stuck in a traffic snafu in a bus for more than half an hour just a click or so from Carrara stadium – I bet that’s never happened at a Gold Coast Suns match! – apparently because of an Aboriginal protest, which was ironic given the heavy emphasis on indigenous reconciliation that was about to take place inside. Plus, it had started pissing down five minutes before they bounced the ball, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, and I had a very wet arse.
Fortuitously for the organisers, the clouds cleared by the time Chas and Camilla made their first appearance in the company of a largish entourage of other important suits, including the PM, and so Chas did not get any wetter than he has always been. Who knows what plan B would have been if it had kept on bucketing down, but it didn’t, and so the show went on. And on.
But back to the parade of nations. This has now become such a rusted-on traditional component of these affairs, especially at Olympic level, that it is pointless and fruitless railing against it, and in any case the people who really count – the athletes, especially those who haven’t had the thrill in participating in one previously – love it. And that’s probably the only justification it needs.
It’s just that no-one has ever figured out a way to make it look or sound interesting, other than, perhaps, critiquing the team outfits, and there is usually a lot to critique. As one equally cynical mate of mine tweeted: “Now here come the uniforms trialled and rejected for the last Olympics.”
Because they hosted the previous Games, the Jocks were accorded the honour of leading the way, with the blokes all wearing kilts, naturally. There may or may not have been anything under them but you had to admit they looked pretty snazzy. But already Charlie –who has been known to wear kilts himself – looked to be glazing over before realising he was meant to be applauding.
He had probably twigged there was still another 70 teams to come – if so, he didn’t appreciate how lucky he was. If it had been the Olympics, there would have been closer to 200. After a couple more desultory claps, the TV cameras stopped focusing on him – although that may have been because he had wandered off in search of a strong drink to while away the time. Or was that me?
Look, I don’t wish to come across as an old curmudgeon, even if my wife insists on telling me almost daily that I am, but I’m afraid I’m just ambivalent about opening ceremonies. I have now sat through at least 15 of them at Olympic or Commonwealth level, very few of which have left me feeling that I have acquired memories to last a lifetime. There have been exceptions, none better than Muhammad Ali’s trembling, heroic determination to light the cauldron at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Close behind that was Paralympic archer Antonio Robello’s flaming arrow, fired from a wheelchair, that performed the same task at Barcelona in 1992. And of course the Cathy Freeman moment in Sydney.
These days it seems to be less ceremony than a competition in its own right as organisers spend vast amounts to try to ensure theirs will be remembered as the best ever, at least until the next one comes along. Nothing less than a gold medal will do, even if it is imaginary and does not count on the results table. Beijing spent a massive $150m, as I recall, on their 2008 Olympic extravaganza and London, with superior imagination, trumped it four years later for about half the price. The Gold Coast apparently spent about $26m. Was that good value for money? As in all other forms of beauty, that is in the eye of the beholder. Certainly, with the hundreds of lifesavers and an elaborate beach scene, they got the fundamental message across that the main purpose of the precinct (perhaps the only one) is that it is a holiday playground, which is nothing about which to be bashful. Tourism is extremely big business, especially in this sun-kissed part of the world.
This was third such Australian production I have witnessed, after Brisbane in 1982 and Melbourne twelve years ago. The Gold Coast’s big brother up the road pulled off something of a masterstroke 36 years ago with the appearance of Matilda, a giant mechanical kangaroo that winked as she disgorged scores of schoolkids. It has never been forgotten.
Melbourne came up with a boy with a duck, a flying tram, some large tin fish – and footy icon Ron Barassi being seen to walk on water, which was no surprise to his countless local fans. And Her Maj herself was in attendance, not merely “represented” by one’s family. What she thought of the parade of nations is, of course, not on record but she smiled a lot more than the son and heir did this time. But then, she does have a proven sense of humour with these matters, having consented to be portrayed as leaping out of a helicopter with James Bond at the London ceremony in 2012.
It is a pity the Gold Coast did not have any grainy old footage of one of the first openings I witnessed, the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, when two very well-known banana-benders, iron man and canoeist Grant Kenny and swimmer Lisa Curry, who were either married or soon to be, quietly engaged in a little, ahem, horizontal cuddling, fully clothed of course, when the team finished its lap of honour. That might have made Charlie crack it for a grin, but let’s see what else the Queenslanders can come up with over the next dozen or so days.
The Government minister in charge, Kate Jones, has put a bit of pressure on all concerned by guaranteeing that this will be the best Games in history, a big statement that will be received with interest in Melbourne and even in the great beyond, where the mastermind of the 06 Games, Ron Walker, is now residing. If she’s right, they might have to change the name to the Gold Medal Coast.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.