The Guardian September 20, 2000

Olympic scoreboard

The opening ceremony at the Olympic Games will probably set a new 
direction for opening ceremonies in those countries that subsequently stage 
the Olympics. The historic tableau was an imaginative presentation that 
captured some of the features of Australia's history and the 
characteristics of its people. It was also a high-level technical 
presentation making full use of lights, technology and materials.

It seems that those who conceived the tableau were attempting to make a 
genuine contribution to reconciliation and this was crowned by the fact 
that Cathy Freeman had the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron.

Having said that, the ceremony did not recognise the resistance of the 
Aboriginal people to their conquerors nor the dispossession of the 
Aboriginal people of their land and the loss of tens of thousands of lives.

Perhaps such references would be regarded as too political and would not be 
acceptable to the Howard regime and all those Olympic sponsors who are 
supremely jealous of their private property rights and might be upset by a 
political controversy which could interfere in their Olympic profit-making.

The tableau also gave recognition to Australia's multinational and 
multicultural population and that the country has been built up by waves of 
migrants from many countries.

These were very positive messages. One wonders whether the Prime Minister 
will now find it within himself to use the words "Sorry" and 

In the lead-up to the games there was the journey of the Olympic torch 
through many communities. It provided the opportunity for participation in 
the event and brought large numbers of people onto the streets and into the 
process of the games preparations. The means used to choose those who 
carried the torch seems to have been very democratic in that a wide range 
of people were selected from within the many communities through which the 
torch passed.

Credit for the organisation of the hundreds of thousands of people here for 
the games, including transport to the Olympic site and throughout the 
metropolitan area, primarily belongs to the thousands of volunteers, public 
transport workers and the public transport system which, despite being 
undermined and underfunded by successive state governments, nonetheless 
demonstrated its vast superiority over the private system. At the 1996 
Games in Atlanta  a city with virtually no public transport  the mass 
movement of people during the event was chaotic.

Together with these positive aspects we are witnessing a great deal of hype 
and the growth of the idea that Australia and Australians are the "best in 
the world". The opening ceremony was a great opportunity to show the world 
that Australia sees itself as part of the community of nations, desiring 
peaceful, friendly and cooperative relations.

However, instead of taking this opportunity, the Howard Government and the 
media are deliberately promoting the idea of national superiority which can 
have very dangerous consequences if genuine patriotism becomes arrogant 
nationalism. Some will attempt to harness nationalism to the Government's 
undemocratic and militarist preparations that are now emerging. 

If we are the "best in the world", it follows that we are superior to 
Indonesians, Indians, Malaysians, Burmese, Chinese and others, all 
countries whose peoples have long histories and many achievements.

In the past Australia suffered a "cultural cringe". This could be replaced 
by a nationalistic, arrogant and ignorant jingoism, unless it is tempered 
now by modesty and a real knowledge and recognition of the achievements of 
other countries.

There is no doubt that friendly and positive attitudes are alive and well 
in the Australian community generally, but they are not guiding the 
decisions of governments and those members of the ruling class who look at 
our Asian neighbours as inferior and their working people as a source of 
cheap labour from which to rip enormous profits.

In some respects the promotional hype of the Sydney Games as the "people's 
games" is true: not because the people own them, they don't. But without 
the cooperation, enthusiasm and labour of the people, the world's "biggest 
event" simply would not happen.
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