by SHAHED SADULLAH
Watching and listening to the local British media one would get the impression that this London Olympics is the best staged and best managed Olympics ever. However, the situation on the ground has been slightly different with many instances of howlers of the level that you would expect to find in the annals of Billy Bunter; which means that any claim that organizationally this is the Olympics of all Olympics, has to be taken with a fistful of salt.
The first controversy was created during the opening ceremony during which an Indian student, apparently one of the volunteers, somehow managed to join the Indian contingent during the march past of teams. She was so conspicuously not a part of the squad that she attracted immediate attention. For one thing she was too pretty to be part of the squad but more importantly, while all the female members of the Indian squad were dressed in yellow saris and blue blazers, she was right there in the front in a red top and blue jeans. Very fetching and not even nearly where she should have been. She did not have the competitor's identity card either and she grabbed much of the ten-second slot that the Indian team received on television during the march past.
Obviously, the Indians were not amused. In fact, Indian officials were furious and they demanded, in no uncertain terms, answers from the organizers. Brigadier P K Muralidharan Raja, the acting chef de mission of the contingent, made his feelings very clear when he said: "The Indian contingent was shown for hardly 10 seconds in the TV coverage and the entire focus sadly was on this lady, instead of the athletes."
But the main issue was not one of diverted television coverage, upsetting as that may have been, but of security and it will be remembered that security concerns had dogged the run up to the Games with the British government having to draft in thousands of troops to help guard Olympic venues after private contractor G4S failed to supply the staff required.
Indian media reported that the woman was a postgraduate student from Bangalore, and while Games chief Lord Sebastian Coe confirmed that she had been identified he did not give her identity.
"She made it into the opening ceremony. She obviously should not have been there," Coe said.
"I can now confirm that she was a cast member. She was slightly over excited." However, her 'over-excitement' was nothing compared to the 'over-excitement' of Indian Olympic officials when they found out how their moment of glory had been messed around with.
There was also controversy over the fact that one of Britain's greatest athletes, the former rower Sir Steve Redgrave was not asked to light the Olympic flame. Redgrave, who won gold medals at five consecutive Games from 1984-2000, was widely tipped as the favourite to do so ahead of ceremony.
Organisers had kept the identity of the final person to carry the torch and light the cauldron secret. That led to speculation that Redgrave or gold medal-winning decathlete Daley Thompson would have the honour.
Redgrave carried the torch into the Olympic Stadium, but then handed it over to seven young athletes, chosen by Olympic legends including himself and Thompson. They then had the ultimate honour.
Redgrave admitted that his competitive ego meant he was disappointed not to have been allowed to finish the job alone. It is amazing how the presence of a television camera plays havoc with the human ego.
But one of the funniest embarrassments that the organizers have had to suffer was when they had to provide a medal winner with a replacement medal within a day of being awarded the original medal – because he had managed to break his medal.
Felipe Kitadai was so proud of coming third in the men's 60kg judo competition that he couldn't bear to be parted from his medal, taking it literally everywhere with him – even keeping it on as he went for a shower the morning after his event.
And that's where disaster struck: in an attempt to avoid getting it wet, he decided to take it off briefly while he washed... but as he tried to put it to one side he dropped it on the floor. The medal broke as it hit the bathroom floor, denting it on the side and snapping the loop that holds the ribbon.
Kitadai asked for a replacement through his Olympic Association and his request was granted – which, come to think of it was no big deal since the actual value of a bronze medal, made mostly of copper, is only three pounds sterling! Had he similarly damaged a silver or gold medal there might have been more to think about as a silver medal is worth about 210 British pounds and a gold about 410 pounds.
However, the biggest controversy of all, and one which has run ever since the Games started, has been the one over empty seats. While literally millions of sports fans have had requests for seats turned down, being told that all seats have been sold, television pictures of almost every event have shown swathes of empty seats with angry fans outside the arena making their views about this as clear as the light of day, quite often in language the falls considerably short of parliamentary standards – the British parliament, that is. The organisers' explanation is that these empty seats were those reserved for dignitaries who did not turn up and among the 120,000 unsold tickets allocated to foreign countries which have not returned them.
Around eight per cent of tickets have been made available to sponsors, another 12 per cent go to National Olympic Committees while five per cent to the "Olympic family" of athletes and officials. That makes for 25 per cent or a quarter of the seats available but that explanation does not explain some of the pictures seen on television. For example, the Olympic tennis events are being held at Wimbledon where during some of the matches much more than half the seats were lying vacant. The explanation therefore does not fit the situation on the ground.
As the controversy continues and public anger mounts, troops who had been drafted in for security duties and students were given some of the empty seats. The organisers of London 2012 announced more tickets would be made available to the public on a daily basis. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has scrambled to find ways of filling empty seats including putting more tickets on sale at the end of every day, but given the evidence available through television pictures, they are not having a great deal of success.
The only other problem is that British athletes, in what is a very British event, are not coming up to expectations. Other than all that, this has so far been a great Olympics.