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In spite the outbreak of Zika and the possibility of violent public protest, the Rio Olympiads opened amidst relative calm in the brand new,

In spite the outbreak of Zika and the possibility of violent public protest, the Rio Olympiads opened amidst relative calm in the brand new, magnificent Macarana stadium as scheduled. All under the benign, watchful gaze of the 98-feet tall Christ the Redeemer which — as one of the New Wonders of the World — stands on a 26-feet high pedestal on the Corcovado Mountain. A better vantage point no one else could get for love or money.

Costing a massive USD10bn, the Olympic Games opening ceremony took place on the evening of 05-Aug-2016. By the time the closing ceremony came around 16 days later on 21-Aug-2016 a total of 91 records had been set. Thus Mr Bolt (3 Gold medals) and Mr Phelps (5 Gold medals) and company had a lot more than their medals to take home in their baggage.

Jihadist Menace and Medals

It is an unfortunate sign of our times that no major venue of any sort can be free from the menace of IS terrorism. Just a fortnight before the Games started, Brazilian police broke up an Islamist jihadist cell and arrested ten IS operatives. Last we heard about it 2 more were apparently still on the run.

So it is quite understandable that the authorities supplemented the regular Rio police with a further 22k military personnel (14.8k from the army, 5.9 from the navy and 1.3k from the air force). Thus they made sure they were amply prepared for any potential terrorist threat coming from land, sea or air—in addition to the not inconsiderable threat posed by home grown gangs of violent hooligans that is such a common feature of Rio. And so the Games went on fairly smoothly.

Unsurprisingly, the USA topped the medals list with 47 Gold followed by Team GB with 27 Gold and China in 3rd place with 26 Gold. Despite their valiant efforts—which I stayed up till the wee hours to watch courtesy of French TV (MBC must really do something about the broadcast of major events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup!)—Team Mauritius did not manage to bring any medals home.

But never mind boys and girls, taking part and pitching against the best of the very best of the world is what the Olympics spirit is all about. Although a medal or two would have been more than welcome, just qualifying to get there is a major achievement of which you can be justly proud! Besides it’s only by participating continuously that we can ultimately build up the capacity to win that coveted medal one day.

Countries

Some 207 countries took part in the Games fielding a total of 11k athletes. Mind you this figure would be far less if the list had not been stretched over the years to include disciplines that have their own “Olympics.” For example soccer has its FIFA World Cup, Rugby its own World Cup and tennis has its Wimbledon and Roland Gaross, inter alia. Besides being an unnecessary second-rate duplication, these disciplines dilute the essence of the original Olympiads which consisted primarily of track and field events.

Let us be honest. Most football fans can remember all the World Cup winners, but I doubt if many can tell who won the last Olympics Gold. It is a similar story with tennis, rugby and many other sports and games that have been tagged along to the original list.

Thus we ended up with a total of 28 sports comprising 41 disciplines and 306 events! Besides unnecessary duplication, the addition of more sports/games inflate the cost of hosting the Games. If we go on adding further sports to the list, the day may not be too far away when it will become prohibitive for any one country to host the Olympics as we know it. And that would be a massive shame!

Paralympics

Hot on the heels of the Olympics, the Paralympics opened at the same venue on

07-Sep-2016. At a cost of USD2bn, it cost only a fifth of the other Games. For some very obvious reasons, a total of only 159 countries with 4.3k took part, about a third of participants at the Games a couple of weeks earlier.

Unfortunately the Paralympic are still considered the poor relation of the Olympiads. Finance and facilities as well as the lack of general interest are major constraints in many countries, ours included. For example whilst the Rio Olympics tickets had no difficulty finding takers, the price of some Paralympics entrance tickets had to be lowered to as low as USD10 a piece in order to entice people to attend and make the Games as financially viable as possible.

Besides these there also remains the inescapable fact that physical/mental shortcomings pose real impediments to participation in a number of disciplines. If we make allowances for this, then the figures of 159 countries and 4.3k athletes is not so bad after all. With further finance and facilities as well as general public interest, this is bound to increase in future.

Symbolic

The Paralympic torch relay began with 5 individual torches being relayed from the 5 regions of Brazil. Symbolically a 6th flame was lit in Stoke Mandeville UK to join the 5 Brazilian torches to form the single Paralympics flame in Rio. Symbolically because it is the pioneering work carried out at spinal injuries department of The Stoke Mandeville Hospital during WW2and onwards that has led to the development of the Paralympic Games as we know it today.

The Mandeville project was started and driven by Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann. An eminent Jewish neurosurgeon who had escaped from Nazi Germany to the UK in1939, Guttmann firmly believed that sports could contribute to the rehabilitation of military personnel with serious injuries, and help them build up physical strength as well as gain their self-respect. Today this philosophy has been adopted universally.

Eventually the great man went on to organize the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled people on 28-Jul-1948 to coincide with the opening of the 1948 London Summer Olympics, encouraging his patients to participate. The Stoke Mandeville Games eventually metamorphosed into the Paraplegic Games, then into the Parallel Games to end up as the present Paralympics.

As we all know the Games now include practically all disabilities, giving a chance to people with physical/mental handicaps to practice and take part in a large number of sports, games and disciplines. Indeed we have come a long way from Guttmann’s days. However, but for his original belief and determination, this may never have come to materialize. In encouraging his wounded soldiers to practice sports, he helped unleash the indomitable spirit that resides inside every Man, able or otherwise.

Medals

There was a torrent of medals. Compared with the Olympics 2 weeks earlier when a total of 974events medals were awarded to winning countries, the Paralympics generated 1,597 of them. China topped the table with 107 Gold medals followed in 2nd place by Team GB with 64 Golds.

But medals are only like the thin icing on the whole body of the cake that is served up to party attendees. For every Paralympics medal winner there are thousands of enthusiasts out there who practice sports/games that help build both physical and psychological well-being. Not many of these will ever get to the Paralympics, or even to national championship level. That really matters not. Even taking part in the village fete or at one’s club level may be the crowning glory for some. Winning feels good, but so does just taking part. Yet for others just being able to play a game is a major achievement given the degree of handicap.

Tokyo

And so with the closing ceremony of the Paralympics on 18-Sep-2016 we came to the end of a glorious month of spectacular show of talents from across the continents. In a world that seems intent in tearing itself apart with hatred and untold cruelty, Rio was a timely reminder that Humanity is equally capable of brotherly Love and Peace.

The one and only time that Tokyo hosted the Olympics was in 1964. Fifty-six years later, the City will be welcoming the mother of all Games once more in 2020. Going by the stupendous developments that I have seen in my lifetime with the Olympics and the Paralympics, it is odds-on that Tokyo will have more countries, more athletes, more records and more medals on display.

And a month of sheer magic for all the citizens of the World to regale upon!

Ramesh Beeharry

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