There was only one question the world was asking as the London Olympics neared the inaugural date late last month and that was if the Brits could pull off a presentation as good as the Chinese one. There were no double guesses either because most felt that Britain could not – it didn’t have the scale, the commitment and expertise required to pull off a high voltage show. And that was what happened. As a critic reportedly said, it was an event that was loved most of all by the Brits with the world trailing behind a fair distance away.
But it did happen, the rain didn’t come down and the huge pageant rolled out smoothly. And as we speak the Olympics move on, with sensational news breaking through every now and then. The Badminton fiasco and earlier, good old Pakistan, taken to the cleaners by a visa scam duly unearthed by The Sun, the newspaper that loves Pakistanis.
Undoubtedly the Olympics will be a great success – the sheer scale of it all, is mind-boggling to say the least and I will not inflict any statistics on you. Watching it unfold, I – and I am sure many here, must wonder wistfully if we could ever pull off something close to this. Sadly we all know the answers. A nation that has yet to learn the art of queuing is unlikely to have the mindset to plan something as challenging as the Olympics. Can you imagine the chaos simply seating the VIPs, with each goon more ‘important’ than the next? The imagination boggles and the mind, wobbles or vice versa – it doesn’t matter.
So how do the Brits do it? Why are they so organised? I am thinking again and again of that great event they stage every year, simply called The Championships, Wimbledon. Two weeks of organising a perfect tournament that runs like a high class Swiss watch. There are other great tennis tournaments – the Opens in Australia and America, the red-clay Roland Garr’s classy in its own way, but no one has the class and the panache that Wimbledon does.
It is perhaps the quintessence of how an event should be planned and conducted. Even the pigeons have their moves perfected! The Championships don’t happen just by chance. It is painstaking work honed to perfection over the years and run by the right people. Decades of doing it right fashions every move, lays down the detailed procedures and then ensures their compliance down to the ‘T.’
It may look as smooth as silk and literally running on auto but make no mistake – every thing has been thought through down to the last tiny detail. What is more, the ability of the Brits to put things down on paper – a culture that has yet to be sighted in this land, holds them in good stead. There are no grey areas and no ambiguity. Everything is perfectly tuned.
A great many of us watch Wimbledon every year. I for example have never been even near the fabled Centre Court or had strawberries with cream but it is for me the one perfect event. As it draws to an end, within seconds of the men’s final being over, the waving to the ecstatic crowd by the winner, the rueful smile by the runner up, the tossing of the hallowed tennis balls or the wrist bands into the crowd and the ‘other’ business of Wimbledon gets underway briskly.
Down come the nets and disappear God knows where as do various essential items like the umpire’s chair. The ball boys and girls who have spent the good part of the summer training for each move line up, the bevy of photographers do not run amuck but gather in a cordoned-off special area, the presentation table in place, the trophies gleaming and the two heroes of the day, lined up at their appointed spots – all this happens in the flash of a moment, long before the Duke of Kent comes down from the Royal Box as he has done with his wife, the Duchess of Kent, for well over three decades. A quick word with the ball boys and the girls, a smile, an approving nod and they are ready to do the honours as the world watches riveted to their screens and Ipads.
The trophies awarded, always the runner up first, the losing finalist, a quick on-the-spot interview with the player and a final wave to the crowd. And then it is that great moment of ultimate triumph – the new winner for the year, the magnificent trophy in his hands, a ceremonial kiss, the interview almost always praising the opponent and then the photographs.
As the players having packed their 20,000 racquets into bulging bags earlier, now leave the Centre Court, bags slung over their shoulders – no minions to carry these for well established global figures, legendary heroes and multimillionaires. It is all over. Another success, another year taken care of. That’s the way it should be!
Wimbledon, is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, and widely considered to be the biggest and the most prestigious. It has been held at the All England Club in Wimbledon, London since 1877 and is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments and the only one played on grass. The tournament is also notable for the absence of sponsor advertising around the courts. In 2009, Wimbledon’s Centre Court was fitted with a retractable roof to prevent rain delaying matches which closes/opens in about 10 minutes.
In the championship games, about 250 ball boys and girls, known as BBGs, play a crucial role in the smooth running of the tournament, with a brief that a good BBG “should not be seen”. They should blend into the background and get on with their jobs quietly. Since 1947 ball boys and girls have been supplied by local schools. BBG service is paid, just £120-£160 being paid to each ball boy or girl after the 13-day period. It’s not the money but a privilege, seen as a valuable addition to a school leaver’s curriculum vitae, showing discipline and orderliness. BBG places are split 50:50 between boys and girls, with girls having been used since 1977, appearing on Centre Court since 1985.
There is a good lesson to be learnt here but only if you wish to. We don’t because chaos suits us just fine. Every public function is marred with shoving, jostling, pushing and cursing – it’s the way we are. We simply do not wish to change and get better and we make a mess because our entire lives are run on verbals, a sure recipe for disaster.
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org