Social Science blog

16 August 2011

Waving the flag

Whatever you think about the sporting events themselves, there’s one thing about the Olympics which always draws the crowds and that’s the opening ceremony. These events have been increasing exponentially in scale and razzle-dazzle over the years, and one of the main problems for each host city these days is the question of how to improve on the previous city’s efforts. Beijing really upped the ante in 2008 and one could easily imagine the good souls at LOCOG getting glummer and glummer as they watched each mind-boggling set piece unfold. No chance of trumping that approach, so what other extreme can we opt for: something whimsically cack-handed perhaps; something charmingly rustic and spontaneous; Sooty and Sweep? Well, your guess is as good as mine, and the actual event will for some time be as deep and dark a secret as the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress was. What we do know now though, is that LOCOG have started on the process of choosing the participants in the ceremony and have called for 10,000 volunteers. ( )

Of course opening and closing ceremonies weren’t always like this. The opening ceremony at the 1948 London Games involved some massed bands, some marching and the usual IOC rituals of the singing of the Olympic hymn, the taking of the Olympic oath and the lighting of the Olympic flame (all of which must be included, whatever flights of fancy the host city has in mind for the rest of the occasion). However, it is inevitable that such globally consumed events take on a significance which is to some extent disassociated from the sport to follow. The host city and the nation to which it belongs are on show. Much depends – in terms of reputation and other more convoluted attributes – on impressing the world audience in some way or another, depending on what impression you actually wish to leave them with.

For those with a sociological turn of mind, the subtext to these ceremonies is by far the most interesting aspect of the whole thing. What are these host cities really trying to put across, we ask ourselves: how inclusive they are, how democratic, how disciplined, how efficient, how inventive, how colourful? Or even how pragmatic they are, perhaps. Will London 2012 opt to say to the world ‘it’s all very exciting, but isn’t this opening ceremony thing getting just a bit too much?’ For sure, if we do manage to lower the ante, generations of host cities can only thank us for it.

See our mega events bibliography for books and journal articles on ceremonies:




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