Despite my better judgment, I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics last night. Danny Boyle’s bizarro version of English history was one of the oddest TV spectacles I think I’ve witnessed, what with Kenneth Branagh strutting about dressed like Abe Lincoln and Queen Elizabeth parachuting out of a helicopter while men in knickers rolled up the countryside like Home Depot carpets. It put some of the worst Super Bowl half-time shows I’ve seen to shame – which is saying a lot. Forcing us to plod like punished schoolchildren through every phase of English history was cruel and unnecessary. I mean if Togo were hosting the Games it would be super helpful to provide a musical review of the tiny country’s little-known history (not to mention a brief geography lesson on where the heck it is). But England?
Watching England’s history unfold, followed by the parade of participating nations and their athletes, it got me wondering: what if the Olympics weren’t organized along national lines at all? If it’s really intended to be a global celebration of the human spirit, isn’t it time the games were organized more creatively to reflect that? As it is, one-quarter of the athletes competing in London come from just six countries – the superpowers of the US, UK, Russia, China, Germany, and Australia – an imbalance that is just accepted as inevitable.
What if the Olympic teams were formed on the basis of longitudinal zones, for example? I’d be cheering for Team 80 Degree West, an interesting slice of humanity with east coast Americans competing alongside athletes from Ontario, Ecuador, eastern Cuba, Argentina, Jamaica, Chile, and the Netherlands (by way of Aruba), among others. You’d get a good mix of wealthy superpowers and not so wealthy small nations, a fantastic diversity of athletic experience, training programs, cultures, and so on. The uniforms could be made in China, or Togo, or wherever and no one would give a shit. Host meridians would be selected at random by spinning a roulette wheel, not by bribes and favors. Every four years, spectators would have the chance to assume a new, more global identity, united by the lines of the Earth rather than by the borders of nations. And Danny Boyle would need to work a little harder to imagine a worthy celebration.