For openers, we're left with a rather empty feeling

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2012, 12:00am


The bombastic London 2012 opening ceremony is continuing to cause many a wrinkled brow in international online lecture rooms, where a global army of sinologists are earnestly debating the differences between Danny Boyle's extravaganza and Zhang Yimou's jaw-dropper four years ago - more so after London mayor Boris Johnson said his city's curtainraiser had 'knocked spots off' Beijing 2008's first night.

Various debates over what the two very different ceremonies represented and signified rage on. Many agree each ceremony captured the meaning of modern British-ness and Chinese-ness. Self-deprecation and self-confidence were evident at the former, while solemnity and might made up the latter, appears to be the consensus.

Never in a million years, many are arguing, would Beijing have allowed deaf children to sing, have human rights leaders carry the Olympic flag and let 'workers' make up the vast majority of performers. But never in a billion years was Doyle going to beat the scale of Beijing's extravaganza, some say, though to many he wiped the slate clean with his austerity-budgeted rag and set a different yet equally high standard as Zhang.

Meanwhile, the Chinese media have been quick to point out the country's massive red stamp on the London Games, from the fireworks used to light up the East End sky and the digital mastery used during the computerised segments. And of course, it is important to mention the elegant berets worn by the USA team, which bore the Made in China label. Globalisation has never looked so neat.

Poignantly, the dragon roared on the first day of competition and let the mighty Chinese presence be known amid the non-stop adulation for Doyle and Great Britain, as the current Olympic medals champions snapped up four golds and two bronze to top the table. Whatever the merits or demerits of a socialist state-run sports system, there is no denying its ruthless efficiency turns out winners.

And remember how many mocked the authoritarian approach to putting bums on seats - those busloads of T-shirted and colour-co-ordinated housewives and pensioner cheer-leading squads corralled by Bocog officials to help fill every 2008 Beijing venue?

Shakespeare featured heavily in the opening the London Olympics. So in the same spirit one must ask: 'Oh, Chaoyangmen District Olympic Volunteer Supporter Team and all your affiliations, where art thou?' You could hear the Locog organisers silently call out the same lament on the first full day of competition.

High-profile venues, including the volleyball arena at Earls Court, the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park and the gymnastics arena in North Greenwich, had rows of empty seats as did the soccer and shooting stadiums, all of which made for very bad TV scenes - more so after Locog had been trumpeting the popularity of the Games among the public amid the ticket scrambles for all 26 disciplines.

The high-tier cheap seats were bulging at the Aquatics Centre but the better seats in the lower tiers, which are closer to the action, were looking pretty vacant, if you'll excuse the Sex Pistols' opening ceremony pun.

Locog said they would be investigating why the seats were unfilled, while London 2012 overlord Sebastian Coe has reportedly promised to name and shame the sponsors who paid big bucks in their buy-in-bulk, smash-and grab-raids during ticketing sales and then failed to find enough toadies and favoured punters to take up their corporate freebies.

Of more embarrassment to Coe, the London 2012 chairman, was his confident declaration long before Friday's opener that all the events were going to be sellouts. Proper fans, those who queued or punched in their requests online but missed out, were left fuming at the large gaps.

'If it is true these are all wasted seats bought by greedy companies, you can understand why people are protesting about how corporate the Games have become. It is supposed to be the people's Games,' said day tripper Paul Statham, who despite failing to obtain any event tickets, had travelled to London from Bournemouth with his wife and two young children to soak up the atmosphere.

London 2012 communications director Jackie Brock-Doyle, who spent much time in Beijing four years ago watching the Chinese approach to ensuring all seats were filled, said the empty spaces might be accredited seating reserved for media and officials. 'We are looking into who should have been sitting there and why they were not,' she said of the embarrassing no-shows.

The controversy added fuel to the complaint of the 400 people who marched in east London to protest against what they claim is the 'Corporate Olympics'. The Counter Olympics Network said it was demonstrating against the 'two million free tickets for the rich' and the 'roads being turned into exclusive highways for VIPs' plus the sidelining of local businesses, many of which have been punished for using the Olympic rings in their shop windows.

Yet it was left to pragmatic Joe Public to offer a quick fix to the controversy. 'They should put in large print on the tickets that anyone who is not in their seats or checked in at the gate an hour before the start of the event will see their seats sold to the public,' offered Dubai resident Ali, from Kerala in India. 'They could have show-up and waiting list queues at each venue. We would have snapped them up.'