Zil Joy

‘A widow of the Munich Olympic massacre asked Jacques Rogge if he would have refused to commemorate the victims if they had not been Israelis. “difficult question,” he replied

Modern Life The Outsider's Diary War on Terror

Now the Olympics are over and the herd of Tweeting minds have moved on, it might be safe to sound a final dissenting note. I enormously admired the actual Olympics, but the opening ceremony was almost Stalinist in its insistence on absolute compliance. From the moment a choir of deaf children signed the national anthem and ethnic minority actors were so overrepresented as to have become the majority, the whole thing had a very clear tone of “Just you dare”. It was like being blackmailed pre-emptively: “Agree with this or else!” Hectoring, and very un-British.

As for the ceremony’s weird NHS-worship: it seems to me there is a moral as well as political objection to this. The NHS does some good things. But it also does many bad things and is terrifically wasteful. We might feel some pride in it. But anything given such cult-like adoration will find it harder to find, or listen to, necessary critics.

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Frankly, I only wanted to see the ping-pong — in particular the match where North Korea were due to play South Korea. Because they would have no supporters with them, I planned to cheer along the North in this noble sport. But as it was, fairweather friend that I am, I ditched them for an upgrade to the lawn tennis, having been offered a seat at Wimbledon to watch Andy Murray beat Djokovic in the semi-finals on Centre Court.

How, you are wondering, did I manage this? The answer is simple corruption. A friend of a friend turned out to be involved with the International Olympic Committee. I had always thought the IOC was rotten. But the moment the ticket materialised I dropped all objections, even to the Zil lanes, and embraced the fact. For one halcyon evening I was one of the elect, ferried between venues by volunteers who had given up their holidays to perform the task.  One asked where we were from. My companions gave various replies while I kept my head down. I hoped the driver would suspect me of being some influential IOC official who only spoke in foreign tongues, and not merely another Londoner.

In any case, I have now solved the problem Rio and every other Olympic city will always face. The best way to stop people moaning is to give everybody the tiniest taste of what they are moaning about. Swanning past the traffic just once more than made up for weeks of gridlock.

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I saw the IOC President Jacques Rogge only once, happily at his most uncomfortable moment. Rogge refused all pleas to have a moment of silence at the opening ceremony to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes. Originally I had some sympathy with this because it sometimes seems there are too few non-minutes of silence in modern Britain. But at a ceremony in the Guildhall, put together to make up for Rogge’s refusal — and gamely attended by him — I changed my mind.

The politicians — Cameron, Clegg and Miliband — said the necessary platitudes.  But an Israeli minister, the head of the United Jewish Israel Appeal Mick Davis, and two widows of Israeli athletes murdered at Munich absolutely socked it to him. One of the widows relayed a recent conversation with Rogge in which she said she had asked him if he would have refused to permit an official silence if the victims had been any other nationality. “Difficult question,” Rogge apparently replied.

 If that is the case then it becomes imperative that all decent people insist on the Munich victims being commemorated at every future Olympics.

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For me, the happiest tradition of the summer is the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. Somewhat overshadowed this year by the Olympics, they seem to reach a pitch of perfection, not only in performers but audiences. As it costs only £5 to stand, or “prom”, people are willing to take risks. I have discovered all sorts of new music this way. 

At the start of the summer I went to hear Mark Elder conduct Britten, Mahler and Stravinsky. By the time The Rite of Spring came along anybody who had been sitting in the arena was on their feet. As the music got going I found myself watching the audience more than the orchestra.

A young man in front with his arm around his girlfriend was subtly conducting along. Another seemed to be only just restraining himself from bursting into full dance. And along from him, just in front of me, a girl in a headscarf was standing on her toes and bouncing up and down in time with the primordial beat. 

It was a wonderful sight and a great reminder of what good things happen when you give people access to the very best that our culture — and our world — has to offer.