Last year, when we produced our Annual Review of The Forum’s work, I wrote that one of the things I was looking forward to in the year ahead was the Olympics. This raised a few eyebrows amongst my beloved London crowd of sceptics, partly because I am not a ‘sporty person’, and partly because London was burning and trembling due to the riots. And yet here I was talking about an event that is costing soooo much money and that has been soooo perverted by the commercialisation and drug cheats. What was I thinking?!
Well, I could not help myself. You see, I was bitten by the Olympic bug at an early age. As a young girl, I danced in the opening ceremony of the 1984 Winter Olympics in my native Sarajevo and I treasure those Olympic days as some of the happiest memories from my past life. What I so fondly remember are not the medals or the new sports records, the shiny new roads or the Olympic venues– I remember the joy that was almost palpable amongst my fellow citizens when we all pulled together to be part of the Games. I remember the thousands of people who came from all over the world to share a bit of that spirit and goodwill.
Many years later, when I was leaving Sarajevo in the middle of the siege, thereby becoming a refugee, I could only take one suitcase with me. Not knowing whether I would ever come back or what I would be coming back to, amongst the few precious photos and books I took with me was my Olympic ceremony costume. I know it sounds crazy, but during the darkest time in my life I needed a tangible reminder of a better time, a better world and a better people.
I have survived many challenges since I was exiled and, as much as I love London, it was not always the most hospitable place for a young refugee. But that ability to hold on to the idea of a better world with better people has helped me to get through. These days I spend most of my waking hours immersed in injustice and tragedy perpetrated by people against other human beings all around the world for reasons that can never be good enough. And then, for a few days every four years, I remember how great it feels when humankind pulls together and makes an effort to get along and celebrate its achievements – when people are celebrated for their hard work and dedication. And to have this happening in London this year feels like a special treat. I can’t wait to extend these great feelings for a few more weeks during the Paralympic Games.
Many column inches have already been published in the newspapers and in the blogosphere analysing the impact of the Games on everything from retail to housing, from multiculturalism to the next general election. Identity politics is being discussed left, right and centre. Soon, I too might revert to my cynical self by whinging and joining in the impact chatter. But even if I do, I will have a long list of beautiful, inspirational moments to draw upon in the dark and difficult days to come.
Here are my top 10 Olympic moments, please add your own:
2. Stateless refugee Guor Marial parading (and competing) under the Olympic flag.
3. Let’s face it – the entire Opening Ceremony!
4. Volunteer Rachel Onasanwo, a video of whom went viral on YouTube as ‘the Happiest Olympic worker’.
5. Our tube network that carried over 60 million passengers, an increase of 30 per cent compared to last year; that’s more passengers than at any time in its 149 year history. And it was airy, on time and clean (well most of the time).
9. Strangers smiling, making eye contact and even talking on the tube; people hugging volunteers after the Hyde Park concert. Policeman saying ‘Good Morning’ on my way to work…