Olympic Gold Dust for Years to Come

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:

1. Dame Evelyn Glennie (profoundly deaf) leading 1,000 volunteer percussionists at the Opening Ceremony followed by Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children

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).

6. Mo and Bolt and the entire Mo-Bolt thing, including everyone doing the Mo-Bolt thing.

7. Daily Mail getting it so terribly wrong – being forced to remove the offending article completely.

8. G4S revealing its true colours for all to see – something those of us working with detainees have known for years.

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…

10. The Blur in Hyde Park – the other Closing Ceremony –  the best way to close one of London’s finest fortnights is one of Britain’s best bands.

0 thoughts on “Olympic Gold Dust for Years to Come

  • A few days a go I read this article. It touched me so much and took me a while to sit down and think of something to write. I read many pieces of people reflecting on the Olympics and wonderful moments they had, but I felt different reading through this piece considering my own journey. I had a mix of emotions reading through your lovely times with bits of struggle and how you are still holding memories of that. Although I know that things have changed for better for refugees in many ways, I feel I am still living in “when its not the best place for a young refugee” or yet to become! I feel even sad that I don’t have these wonderful reminders to keep me boosted. Not only because I grew up under the same dictatorship system ruling now with no exciting past to remember, but also because there is another battle to be fought here in order to become a refugee, integrate and build a successful life. I am taking some time now and reflecting on the opening ceremony which I watched from a local pub in kings cross. I wasn’t really wowed as I couldn’t get the message behind most of it. Jumping on trampolines and getting kids to sing from around the UK was sweet, but not relative to my understanding of what an Olympic opening should be. A few days after the closing ceremony, I had a chat with one of my British friends about this, and I guess I should be grateful. He talked me through the British history, the struggle and progress through time. I think I would have joined the kids trampolining on their NHS beds celebrating the historic change of reforming a welfare system which enables many people, including my self, to access free services and health care.

    I’ve watched the opening ceremony again with a completely different perception. I got “bitten by the Olympic bug” this time. Specially when relating it to our victories as progressive movements around the world and here in the UK. I might not have these tangible memories of better times, people and world, but this Olympics would definitely become one for my future. I am also sure there will be a time, maybe a few years later, when I will write a similar article reflecting on my own journey while always bearing in mind that things change and world is a beautiful place to live in.

    Many thanks Zrinka …

  • Thanks Zrinka and Nahla for writing about the Olympics. I’m happy to read about our different responses and what it means to us. I found both of your replies moving.

    When I watched the Olympics (and visited the Olympic park), I felt incredible pride in living in London. For being part of a place so diverse and so multicultural, and in the end, so welcoming to Olympic visitors. As a migrant, the city was terrifying and isolating when I first arrived. This summer though the Olympic spirit that settled on London was anything but isolating– I felt more connected to my fellow Londoners seeing the athletes and the volunteers succeed than ever before.

    It’s not often that a country gets to present to the world in four hour televised ceremonies who they are and what they are about. Maybe the billions of pounds spent on infrastructure were not actually worth it but I’m glad that we filled those 4 hours with a message we can be proud of.

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