The 7 most bizarre and controversial moments from Olympic opening ceremonies

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is almost here and it would be an understatement to say that it has taken a long time to get here.

The Covid-19 pandemic has delayed the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet by one year and although the majority of events will take place behind closed doors there is still a lot to look forward to such as the opening ceremony.

Although there have been a few preliminary events, the opening ceremony truly marks the start of the games and often in spectacular fashion. At both the summer and winter games, there is often a lot of anticipation for what sort of show the host city will put on and if they get it right, it can really get the games off to a positive and optimistic start.

However, for all the awe and wonder that the opening ceremony is supposed to inspire it doesn’t always work like that. On more than one occasion technical faults and odd directorial decisions have created talking points and controversy that overshadow the entire event.

Berlin 1936 - Nazis

Looking back it’s hard to believe that an Olympics was ever held in a fascist nation like Nazi Germany but the reality is often stranger than fiction. It’s even more perplexing to see the Olympic flame being lit to a backdrop of hundreds of swastikas and Hitler himself. The dystopian nature of it all was reportedly made worse by the German national anthem playing endlessly and hundreds being let free only to get startled by a canon, causing them to poop all over the spectators below.

Seoul 1988 - Grilled doves

In easily the most distressing thing that has ever happened at an Olympics opening several white doves were literally burnt alive after the flame was lit in Seoul, South Korea. For some reason, it was thought that having 11 doves perched on the cauldron just before it was ignited would be a good idea as the organisers presumably hoped the birds would fly away once things got hot. That didn’t happen and several inevitably burnt to a crisp. The footage is still available online if you can stomach watching the accidental cruelty unfold.

Sydney 2000 - The flame debacle

Australia was on the verge of an international embarrassment in 2000 when an elaborate set-piece involving their cauldron in Sydney almost backfired. After Australia’s decorated sprinter Cathy Freeman had lit the flame, she then had to stand there, awkwardly waiting for the cauldron to ascend to the top of the stadium – except the great big thing wasn’t working at all. The whole thing only took a few minutes to sort out but it must have felt like a lifetime for Freeman. Very shortly into this list and I think we can all agree that you should never work with two things at the Olympics: birds and fire.

Beijing 2008 - Lip-sync girl

Beijing’s opening ceremony in 2008 was possibly the most spectacular ever as the choreography of Hero and House of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou and the sheer size of those involved stunned the world. However, there was much controversy around the event as it emerged that several parts of it were faked including the emotional moment where 9-year-old Lin Miaoke sang ‘Ode to the Motherland.’ It later emerged that Miaoke hadn’t sung the song at all – another girl called Yang Peiyi had actually sung the song and Miaoke had merely lip-synced.

London 2012 - Parachuting Queen

The London 2012 opening ceremony is possibly the most celebrated of recent memory as Danny Boyle’s amazing show incorporated many key British cultural icons, the nation’s history and key institutes such as the NHS. However, Daniel Craig’s James Bond meeting the Queen and then the duo parachuting into the stadium is definitely one of the stranger things to ever happen at an opening ceremony.

Sochi 2014 - Fifth Ring calamity

It’s not just the summer games that are prone to errors, the winter games have their own problems too. Take for instance the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia where a grand set piece involved five snowflakes turning into the five Olympic rings... but only four of them opened up, leading to awkward applause and embarrassment for Putin and co.

Tokyo 2020 - Director sacked for Holocaust joke

Even before the 2020 opening ceremony started the event was in disarray after the director Kentaro Kobayashi was sacked the day when it emerged that he had made a Holocaust joke he made as part of a comedy duo he was part of in the late 1990s. In the sketch, Kobayashi makes a joke about a game called “let’s play massacre the Jews.” Kobayashi has since apologised for the joke but it remains unclear how this will affect the opening ceremony which is due to take place in a near-empty stadium in Tokyo. Kobayashi is remarkable the third official connected to the opening ceremony to have resigned. Creative director Hiroshi Sasaki quit in March after he called Naomi Watanabe a “pig” and composer Keigo Oyamada quit earlier this week after comments he made about bullying children with learning difficulties resurfaced.

Bonus: Neo Tokyo 2020 - Akira

This is not technically from an opening ceremony or an Olympics that ever actually happened but is from the classic 1988 anime Akira. Set in a dystopian vision of Tokyo, still coming to terms with the aftermath of world war and singularity that destroyed the city decades before, Akira’s Neo-Tokyo is not a fun place to be, however it still has an Olympics despite the unrest. A sign early in the movie tells us there are “147 Days Until The Games” and asks the citizens to pull together to make it work by adding: “With everyone’s support, let’s make this a success.” Not everyone is into this idea though as someone has graffitied beneath the sign: “Just cancel it.”

Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)