I am a big sports fan. In the 1970s I used to travel around Ireland to watch sports events… Football, Hurling, Gaelic Football, Athletics, Boxing, Horse Sport…….it was a break in the routine from life in Belfast. And of course I was a single man in those days.
In mid 1979, I signed up to go to see the Olympic Games in Moscow. Moscow had been a controversial choice of course and for over a decade, the Olympic Games had become ever more controversial.
In Mexico City (1968) tens of student protestors had been shot dead by Police. In Munich (1972) seventeen people, including several Israeli athletes and coaches were killed in a terrorist raid by Palestinians. In Montreal (1976) nearly thirty countries boycotted the Olympics to protest that the New Zealand Rugby team had toured South Africa.
So……Moscow. Even for a single guy, Moscow was an expensive trip. I signed up to travel with about 250 other Irish folks. I was in Moscow for the Opening Ceremony and first ten days or so of the Games. I could not afford the entire twenty days. And those of us who returned after ten days were replaced by a fresh consignment of Irish people.
Although going behind The Iron Curtain was a big deal in 1980, it did not seem likely that anything untoward would happen…..even in the dying embers of the old Soviet Union, a nuclear war breaking out was unlikely.
I have blogged elsewhere about the trip on several levels………but specifically on the Olympics, the trip was ruined long before I ever left Dublin Airport in July 1980. I went to Dublin in December 1979 and paid off the final installment. After Christmas, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan……..and within days the United States was leading a boycott of the Games. And as it turned out over sixty countries boycotted the Games……including USA, (West) Germany, Japan, China, Kenya and Canada. Of course this not only meant that athletes from these countries did not go to Moscow, it meant that there were very few spectators from these countries at the Games. Additionally there was pressure from some countries……..including Margaret Thatcher’s Britain ……on their Olympic committees not to attend. The British mostly went. Likewise Ireland………but some sports competitions were further devalued by national federations in (for example) Equestrianism and (field) Hockey refusing to participate. Most “western” Olympic committees (including Ireland and Britain) did not have athletes at the Opening Ceremony ……and there few flags of “western” nations. All flew the Olympic Flag and (as I recall) an Olympic “hymn” was played when a “western” nation won an event.
So attending that Opening Ceremony and seeing a clearly aging Leonid Brezhnev open the Games, the overall feeling was that I should not have made the trip. It was not the spectacle for which I had paid. Of course it was obvious even then that the Soviet Union would lead a boycott of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
The Olympics are highly political………and with money, commercialism and drug cheating………a sham.
In July 2005, London was selected as the venue for the 2012 Olympics. It is of course great to be able to watch the Games on TV when it is in the same (more or less) time zone. Much better that it is London, Paris, Berlin……than Tokyo, Los Angeles or Sydney.
But the very day after the Games were awarded to London, the city was bombed (7th July 2005) and frankly it set off alarm bells that something nasty could happen. Rampant commercialism, spiralling costs as well as the London Riots (earlier this year) and a simmering resentment at the cost of living……mean that I detect little good feeling about the Games. Of course TV and the Media will whip a kind of genuine national pride and a less worthy jingoism which will make the Games a roaring success………….Or not.
Frankly I am worried. A lot of people (already rich) are going to get (more) rich from these Games…..but I suspect that a lot of people will feel less happy…….notably inconvenienced Londoners and local taxpayers in London. It is one of the great ironies that the Games Organisers (none of whom will be impoverished) are recruiting an army of unpaid volunteers to make the Games a success.
But more so the announcement that 13,000 British troops will be deployed at Olympic venues in London and other sites in Britain is a clear sign that the Government themselves are anxious. I suspect its internal dissent (summer riots) which will tie up police numbers rather than any overt “terrorism”.
But as I noted several student protestors were shot dead in Mexico City in 1968. It couldnt happen in London in 2012? Could it?