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‘Rio spectacular? I was in dire need of Wogan or Clive James’


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Martin KelnerBy Martin Kelner

8 August 2016

London has a lot to answer for. After the spectacular triumph of the 2012 opening ceremony, the minimum requirement for such occasions now seems to be some sort of historical narrative, buffed and polished to achieve the impeccable political correctness the world – or, more importantly, the world’s broadcasters – can get on board with.

I preferred it when it was just a bunch of kids from the local drama schools, dressed up, waving giant dildos about. (The giant dildos, in fairness, were a failed attempt at fashionable mea culpa, making their appearance at a winter games in Canada, and meant to represent totem poles of native tribes displaced by European settlers).

Pre-London, the joy of opening ceremonies was that they were often choreographed with the lack of self-awareness of the chap who directed the Springtime For Hitler sequence in The Producers. And a further joy for those of us watching at home was that the man deputed by the BBC to interpret the nonsense for the sofa-bound was usually that fine English gent Barry Davies, who invariably played a straight bat. 

If the organisers said the dancing vaginas, or whatever, represented the many beautiful lakes and forests of the host nation, Barry would not be so impolite as to demur.

Now, following Danny Boyle’s succès d’estime at London, the trend is to bring in a hotshot film director, who knows what he’s doing. Spoilsports. Rio chose Fernando Meirelles, director of City Of God, a multi award-winner set in the city’s favelas, and also The Constant Gardener, which I remember going to the cinema to see 10 years or so ago.

As I recall, it was a perfectly acceptable interpretation of a John Le Carre novel, well acted by Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes, but erring on the side of dullness at times.

Similarly, there were longeurs in his opening ceremony, the theme of which was more or less the history of the world so far. It started with footage of the lapping waves of vast oceans projected into the Maracanã stadium, to illustrate Brazil before man; but which could easily have represented a sea of clean urine, from which competitors might wish to help themselves, because you never know…

The perfectly professional but disappointingly schoolteacherly commentary team of Andrew Cotter and Hazel Irvine read through the press release, so we knew what was going on, and how significant it all was. ‘And now we go back to the beginning of life, with micro-organisms dividing,’ Hazel intoned, and even the insomniacs amongst us may have managed to catch a few zeds.

There was a colonisation sequence, a slavery sequence, and some clever crypto-3D imagery of the growth of urban Brazil. ‘There are 270 different languages spoken in Brazil,’ one of the commentators read from the press release. 

‘Yeah, whatever,’ was my unworthy response. It may just have been early hours weariness, but I was beginning to feel in dire need of a Wogan, of blessed memory, or a Clive James in the commentary box to keep me from my bed.

I finally bailed out at the CO2 emissions and Polar ice caps melting bit. ‘The theme is, recycle, reinvent, replant,’ we were solemnly informed.  

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in the flickering thought that something that might help in that area would be not to fly in thousands of athletes, half the BBC, and all the officials you had previously flown around the world sweetening to get the games for Rio in the first place.  And that’s not to mention the great hole made in the world’s supply of pharmaceuticals to get some of the competitors to the starting line.

Every Olympics it’s the same. We’re told it is an opportunity for the host country to show its face to the world. But does anyone think better or worse of Brazil after Friday’s ceremony?  My hunch is that we think of Brazil much as we did before; as fairly corrupt, with a relatively high crime rate and an indefensible gap between the lavishly rich and dirt poor, but still a hell of a fun place that loves to sing and dance.

What impressed me most when I went to Brazil was the determination to, er, unselfconsciously let it all hang out. There were chaps on Copacabana beach with beer bellies roughly the size of Ecuador, happily wearing Speedos, and women, size 18 and above at a guess, sporting thongs.

Forget the rain forest for half an hour or so. They should have bussed in the first thousand people they found on the beach – and they would be as diverse as you like, without even trying – put on one of those brilliant Latin jazz albums, and let them dance. And if they were to throw in a few giant dildos, all to the good. 


Screen Break had no hard and fast rules in looking for a benefactor but accepted a concrete proposalScreen Break ran in The Guardian for 16 years, and then in the Racing Post. The first two episodes in its current incarnation can be found here, and here. Week three, now better know as ‘The Screen Break that cost Steve McClaren his job’, can be found here. WeekConcrete Show four featured the wacky world of Jonny Wilkinson. Week five came with a money-back guarantee on laughs. (It was so funny that nobody at all asked for their money back). Week six was all about managing with an iron bar (and the boat race). Week seven was the Windies winning wonderfully. Week eight was all about Willett’s Masters and a win for England. Then we considered God’s team, followed by people going Leicester gaga, including Emily Maitlis, and the anti-Semitism debate, and then Aston Villa and Newcastle, aka Dim and Dimmer. Next up was the BBC White Paper, mushy peas and rugby league.Then A Question of Sport touch a nation’s nerve as Jimmy Hill earned a nation’s sympathy. Then Graeme Le Saux rubbed shoulders with Pele, and Rovers. The passing of Ali, recalling Euro 96, and the Derby followed. Then Euro 2016STARTSand it’s all about Clive, Bilic and Co. Then: the hopelessness of England’s manager (whoever he is), followed by the pointlessness of the co-commentator, thenEngland usually having an excuse. Next: Centre Court crowd – what IS that about? Then: A round with nostalgia about Alliss. Next: Olympic build-up with Budd v Decker, revived. Also well worth a read is the most amusing ‘My celebrity death match‘. This piece is also a MUST READ. And so is this one. 


And you can follow Martin Kelner on Twitter @MartinKelner


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