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Britain shows culture and sports can work together

Publication Date : 10-08-2012


The Olympic Games in London is about to end, and thanks to the free TV channels that have resumed the standard definition of free TV, we get to watch and cheer our compatriots in their pursuit of our first gold medal at this Olympiad.

No matter how late in the night the live broadcast is, we stay up in front of our TVs, notwithstanding the low work efficiency rate the following morning in our offices. That could not be said during the recent Euro 2012 football championship when we consumers were again the victims of capitalism.

Of course, we can simply forget and say to ourselves that our national team was not part of Euro 2012 anyway, and we enjoyed it partly because of our favourite pastime - betting or buying postcards to predict the winner in the hop of becoming an instant millionaire. Speaking of which, I'm quite surprised that there was no similar marketing plan during Thailand's participation in the Olympics, despite the higher stakes for us. Perhaps the absence of commercial product logos in the sports arenas - despite a great number of the Games' official sponsors being present here in Thailand - is a reason.

The general tone of the Games is much more relaxed than what audiences around the world have expected from the hosts, with their long history of rigidity or good manners. In fact, they've managed to make the former host Beijing look rather uptight.

During many events, for example, the arena announcers and the athletes, during half-time breaks or time-outs, make the atmosphere seem less like a sports contest being fiercely contested for national pride and more like an entertaining performance celebrating the human spirit. It's a reminder that with a large group of spectators, or an audience, gathering to watch performances by trained athletes, sports and theatre are closely related, and have been since ancient times.

An Olympics basketball game looks and sounds like an NBA game. Wimbledon, sans the white dress code of the tennis players, looks more vibrant than ever, and there are even Mexican waves in the crowd between game and set intervals. Security-wise, it has remained safe and sound despite the boiling political tensions around the globe, and it looks like the extra money the hosts put in has paid off. Let's keep our fingers crossed for three more days.

The opening ceremony set a record high for TV viewers in several countries that enjoyed the advantage of the time difference - but not Thailand. Thanks to acclaimed film director Danny Boyle, we experienced a stunning spectacle that showcased a vast landscape of British culture, juxtaposing the high and the low, the popular and the elite, and the strictly British to the universal.

It was generally unpredictable too - as when Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra's rendition of Vangelis's "Chariots of Fire" was upstaged, visually, by Sir Rowan Atkinson's one-finger piano performance and his bored facial expression. The TV cameras chose to focus mostly on the master comedian, and that's British humour to the max.

There's much more than sports in the city of London right now, but unfortunately it is not being covered by the Thai sports journalists who have been assigned to London.

The London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the "Cultural Olympiad", is on from June to September and features many performances, with free admission and tickets, that are not actually sports-related. For example, the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon has joined with the Globe Theatre in London, as well as other British and international theatre companies, in presenting the "World Shakespeare Festival 2012". It features more than 60 productions of Shakespeare's plays, in many venues across the country, and lasts until November. The world's most produced playwright didn't show up at the opening ceremony, but instead gave the spotlight to the world's most famous spy.

Some British cultural events at this time of year are regular ones held annually with or without the Olympics, like the Edinburgh Festival, which began last Friday. It's been designated as part of the Cultural Olympiad anyway, to ensure that the whole of Britain, not just London, feels part of the Olympics, and to encourage tourists to extend their summer vacation after the games.

This is a good example of how sports events are cultural. It's also shows how various government and private organisations in different fields have joined hands to create a unified perspective of how one can celebrate the human spirit during this important sports event. In this day and age, a sports spectator can enjoy a Shakesperean play as much as any theatre buff.

Thailand still has the hope of hosting the Olympic Games at sometime in the future - hopefully in my lifetime. But a major sports event that we'll host soon is the 2012 Futsal World Cup. It's less than three months from now, and yet I haven't seen many posters or billboards around, nor felt any excitement building up for it. I've seen more posters for events leading up to the advent of the AEC, which is still three years from now.

Futsal is played on a small indoor pitch with only 10 players in total, and that means not much space for commercial logos or an extravagant opening ceremony, but it's a Fifa event that could pave the way for us to host larger sports events in the future. Plus, our national futsal team has proved that they're doing much better than their 11-man counterpart on the outdoor pitch.

And so let's take London as an example for us to organise a sports event that goes further, and is culturally richer, than just a sports event. Of course, I'm not proposing that any Thailand Premier League team come up with more sexy-outfitted cheerleading squads, nor pitching to any Thai theatre company to stage "Futsal: The Musical" this November.


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