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Tokyo 2020: Five-Point Manifesto to Save the Opening Ceremony for Humanity’s Sake

Lest we have forgotten, the Olympic Games opening ceremony used to be about celebrating many things great. Tokyo 2020’s big day was always going to be different, but… A flag-waving screen-splitting minister, a cliched pop song beaten to death by artistes across the world, and a great Indian baraat complete with sherwani and salwar kameez wearing relatives, just made it an irrelevant circus.
Japanese boxer Arisa Tsubata

Japanese boxer Arisa Tsubata runs on a treadmill in one of the acts during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. Tsubata is a nurse who was training to qualify for the Tokyo Games but was unable to make the cut due to the pandemic (Pic:, Twitter).

We are here to save the Olympic Games opening ceremony. You are either with us or against us. The solutions we are about to offer may seem radical, even violent. We do not apologise. We will never apologise. It’s too important. 

The Olympics opening ceremony (known for copyright purposes in India as the ‘Split Screen show’) is in severe decline. Everyone (on our WhatsApp) knows this. Everyone (there was one tweet from long ago) is talking about it. Something must be done. This long standing tradition, revered for its multiculturality, theatre, humour, colour and diversity is in its 32nd variation, and is too important to let go. The stakes could not be more apocalyptic. Comfortable pop spectacle seems unimportant right till you are in the middle of a global pandemic watching a sporting event with empty stands, hours before the explosion of Olympics fever upon a world that is now, or has recently been, on fire.

Click | For More Coverage of the Tokyo Olympics From Newsclick Sports

So, presented below is our five-point manifesto for restoring the glory of this disintegrating pop bastion, this fading spectacle of the best nature of humanity, this souring song and dance routine, to its former pinnacle of glory. It is fair to mention right now that we have been reading French philosophy and watching Iranian cinema — you know, to escape the dreary, upsetting cycle of news — and this may have influenced our thinking about the Olympics and spectacle in general. C’est La Vie. We have a world to save friends, and we are retaking the flame by any means necessary. It is time to fence for our ideals.

1) Ministers Before Athletes. Always. Split Screen Every Indian Olympic Event

Does he even know that much about sport? At this point in time it doesn’t matter. He has played a Ranji game and you, dear reader chewing your lips, haven’t. And when you play cricket you find a way to slide it into every conversation you ever have about sport with anyone, ever, anywhere. And so the Minister of Sports, Youth Affairs and Minister of Information and Broadcasting just followed an age old tradition of sliding it in, casually, when talking about the great work the government is doing to improve grassroots sports and take India to the pinnacle of Olympic sports (remember, the cabinet reshuffle means this man has actually held his present job for just about a month). Just like cricket. Remember, there was a time when India was no good at cricket and no one thought we’d ever be, but now we are the greediest, power grabbing, money controlling centre of the cricket-verse. Everyone bow to our greatness. Sorry, I got distracted fellas, what were we saying? Oh yes, we will be an Olympic superpower.

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Which brings to the more important part of this whole exercise. The broadcasters need to make it a habit to split screen Minister sa’ab everytime an Indian athlete hits the screen at the Olympics. Let’s be honest. Most Olympic sports aren’t spectator sports (don’t take offense, shooting, archery, golf, weightlifting...) and the feed needs a boost every now and then when they’re on. Go the American way (or the IPL way). Bring on the cheerleaders. A split screen of the Minister yawning, fawning and waving a tiny flag enthusiastically like a five-year-old, will turn even the dreariest 10m rifle competition into a rage. Memes shall follow. Likes will be guaranteed.

2) It’s Not About Looks. Go For Feels

We all know this opening ceremony was going to be unlike any other ever before and (hopefully) unlike any after. No fans, sombre celebrations (the king apparently insisted the word not be used in his address at all) and small parading contingents meant the entire affair was less the Oscars and more the Golden Lions. Which isn’t entirely a bad thing. 

Consider that stark, grim opening section which began with a spotlight on athletes training alone, looking despondent as the Games were postponed during the pandemic. One person looked particularly lonely running away on a treadmill, endlessly. Soon enough we learnt that the ‘performer’ was Arisa Tsubata, a Japanese boxer whose qualifying tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic. When places were allotted on the basis of world rankings, Tsubata missed out. “I had been working so hard for a year after the postponement of the Olympics, and it’s so frustrating that I don’t even have the right to compete,” Tsubata told Reuters when she learnt she would miss out. She works as a nurse. 

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Pause here. This may seem in direct contradiction to edict number 1, but seriously guys, athletes are the real stars of these Games. They are the only reason we do this every four years. Not the International Olympic Committee’s moneybags, the host nation’s prestige, the various diplomatic flirtations, the administrators, the broadcasters or even the fans. Even if you are a stone hearted cynic who believes it is inappropriate  to hold this festival of sport in current circumstances, surely you feel pain for Tsubata. 

This is the way forward for the opening ceremony. More pain, less gain. Try to be more human. Consider all the sweat that goes into getting here, but also think about those who haven’t made it here (and those who probably, sadly, never will). Also talk about real world issues. The IOC loves to say sport is the divest of politics, but this ceremony is literally political shoulder barging — every country waving their flags marching in a parade! Acknowledge everything that we may have done wrong. Use this as a platform to talk about serious issues. And please, don’t talk about climate change by forcing broadcasters to say that the placards with country names were made of recycled plastic. 

Modern society is all about likes and shares, but the Olympics is more than that. And it is also much less. Perhaps the best part of this ceremony was when they contextualised it for our time. Who knows, this could well be this Olympics’ cinematic moment.

3) Say No To Salwar Kameez, Sherwani

This is the year of the lord, 2021. India has been independent for 74 years (birthday coming soon). India: a nation with 28 states, eight union territories and only linguistics professors know how many languages. We are a multi-cultural society which speaks, talks, writes, behaves and eats in a myriad of different ways. Diversity? This is India. 

Video | Tokyo 2020 and the Missing Olympic Ethos

Yes, sure we get it. You want to ban beef in the North East, teach Hindi in the South and remove all rights from Kashmir, but salwar kameez and sherwani? C’mon guys. We can do better. You want to stick to a colour palette? Sure, no problem. But let these outstandingly fit, good looking athletes parade the diversity of India via attire! We are a cool country that wears some seriously colorful clothing. Kitsch is us. No? Okay fine. How about this then

4) Get. Thomas. Bach. Away. From. A. Microphone

Yup. No need to expand on that. 

5) Eliminate Plagiarism

Imagine, sung by artists across continents. If there is one song behind which humanity can hide behind for all time, it is this John Lennon bhajan. And what’s worse, you weren’t even original.  Who are you, Gal Gadot

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