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By Suresh Menon
I am not very sure what opening ceremonies do to sporting events, but in the pre-television days they might have been a way of introducing the culture of a place and its traditions to those from the other side of the world. Today they are usually boring, over-the-top or distinctly underwhelming distractions that are routinely reported by unimpressed writers using clichés like ‘grand’, ‘spectacular’ and so on. It has reached a stage that even if someone who is half a celebrity pukes on the pitch to the accompaniment of lights and sound, the show will be seen as an ‘extravaganza’.
It is bad enough at the Olympic Games, but at least one occasionally gets to see a well-choreographed piece or a genuinely spectacular visual, but at cricket tournaments they have begun to make less and less sense. The 1996 World Cup opening ceremony in India was labeled a ‘flop show’, even by those who automatically reach for ‘spectacular’ and ‘grand’ from their box of clichés on these occasions.
By bringing together a bunch of has-beens, never-wases and never-will-bes the IPL began its third season by putting everybody to sleep. After Ali Campbell and Lionel Ritchie, one expected the organizers to roll out Jim Reeves and Donny Osmond. Retro is fine, but the evening of the walking dead is hardly inspiring. And what were all those waiters doing there prancing around in what looked like their graduation hoods?
Why bother at all? Whom is the opening ceremony for? The people at the stadium? Television? The world at large? I am sure none of these groups will complain if there is no opening ceremony at all. If it is done as part of some necessary ritual (because everybody else is doing it), then let us be innovative and drop it altogether. The toss between captains is as good an opening ceremony as any, as far as cricket is concerned.
It wasn’t until Cheteswar Poojara drove a ball to the boundary that the first classy act of the evening was seen on the ground. The opening ceremony was innocent of class, and didn’t aspire to be stylish or even adequate.
What does an opening ceremony do? Warm up the audience for the feature event? Show them what can be done with lots of money and a bunch of has-beens singing precisely one song each? Fake ABBA perhaps lip-synching? Why not a fake Elvis Presley lip-synching? Or a fake Bhimsen Joshi?
The only message I could discern in all this is the obscene amount of money that must have been spent on the whole show. The captains lined up and cheerfully signed all manner of pledges – to play in the spirit of the game, to adhere to green norms, to wish Lalit Modi good morning everyday and so on. It is time they signed a pledge that they will not participate in any tournament which begins with an opening ceremony.
Soon the Commonwealth Games will be here, and a spectacular, stunning, grand extravaganza will assault our eyes there too. There’s talk of a laser show and some stuff with a gigantic balloon which is expected to cost in the region of 140 crores. Cheaper to get a semi-celebrity to throw up on the field. With that kind of budget you can get full celebrities even.
Opening ceremonies should be banned by an act of Parliament. Or the International Cricket Council. Or Indian sporting bodies can voluntarily decide that they will not have any for their tournaments. It is possible that the rest of the world will actually welcome this; it might just be a question of who will bell the cat first.