Hours after the London 2012 Olympics officially kicked off in the British capital, the high commission in Islamabad held an Iftar-dinner to mark the same.
The assembly of diplomats, elected officials, Olympic officials, former athletes and media personnel, were welcomed by a display of rare sporting photographs depicting former Pakistani Olympians and sporting heroes from Pakistan and pre-partition India. These included images of cricketer Abdul Hafeez Kardar along with his teammates from the Indian team such as the captain, the Nawab of Pataudi, and from the Pakistan team, where Kardar, the first captain, was pictured with star fast bowler Fazal Mohammad among others.
Other images in the display, provided by Yahya Ghaznavi, included Naseer Bunda’s immortal goal in 1960, which resulted in Pakistan’s first gold medal and India’s first defeat in an Olympics hockey match and other great sporting moments from decades past, including sprinter Abdul Khaliq, the Asian Bird, making his record run in the 1954 Asian Games.
However, the most striking was a photo of the 1960 Olympic contingent walking in for the opening ceremony. Looking dignified in their turbans and jackets, with smiles on their faces, the athletes led the march. The image stood in stark contrast to the smile-free contingent this year which had its administrative officials at the front, as if they were the ones competing.
The event itself started with Iftari, which included local favourites such as samosas, tikkas and rice with curry. British favourites such as Shepherd’s Pie, delicious fish and chips, along with various juices and soft drinks, were also on offer.
Dinner conversations were limited, with most of the focus on the opening ceremony and Pakistan’s Olympic hopes for gold. While some thought the ceremony paled in comparison to Beijing 2008, the very British flavour of the event, the appearance of NHS staff, and cameos by the Queen, Daniel Craig in character as James Bond and Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean, and the fact the ceremony went on without any glitches was enough to satisfy most attendees.
After the assault on the buffet was over, British High Commissioner Adam Thomson spoke to the assembly, noting that this year’s Olympics falls within Ramadan. “For the more than 3,000 Muslim athletes competing, this will be a once in a lifetime chance to compete with the same discipline, focus and commitment required of them during their holiest month. We welcome these athletes and the countless thousands of Muslims here and abroad who will be enjoying the games at this very special time.”
The high commissioner also noted how the games “present a great opportunity for Britain to welcome the world” since “many nationalities, cultures and backgrounds are already represented in the UK”, before expressing pride in how this makes “Britain such a diverse, open and tolerant society and a reason why I am sure Pakistan’s Olympic team will generate a big following.”
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, the chief guest, praised the ceremony, and seemed quite impressed by the Queen-James Bond skit, before commenting how “sports civilise us, teach us tolerance and make us understand the diversity of people”. He said, “The Olympics recognize that being different in colour and creed does not make people unequal.”
He added that the important thing is not to win, but to take part in the games, and without taking away anything from the top runners, the Olympics spirit is the best symbolised by those who finish last in a competition. The comment echoed moments such as Derek Redmond’s 1992 400-metre run, where he tore a hamstring and was assisted across the finish line in last place by his father.
The minister also noted that Team G-B and Pakistan are in the same group in hockey. “So only one will go through, hopefully Pakistan!”
The British High Commission had also raised Rs215,000 in donations for the Pakistani Paralympics Association, a cheque for which was given to a representative of the association.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2012.