Much ado over a cauldron

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    IN a few days’ time the Southeast Asian Games will formally begin. Formally, because unofficially the Games have already started: the Philippine polo team, for example, already lost a close match to the team from Brunei in a game played in Calatagan.

    If I am not mistaken, football matches begin today and so does water polo. Others begin in the next few days and basketball begins on December 4.

    But it’s the formal rites on November 30 that mark the formal start of the games. The opening rites is when the head of state declares the games “open” and a spectacular show unfolds to welcome guests and spectators.

    I am told that, not surprisingly, we will be pulling off spectacular opening ceremonies. Leah Salonga topbills it.

    It’s also the event where one of the most awaited acts of the official opening happens – the lighting of the flame that will remain lit for the duration of the Games.

    Each host city has its own “gimmick.” The Olympics usually has a torch run, which begins from Athens where the torch is first lit in honor of the first Games, and then it is carried through various countries (allowing global sponsors like Coca-Cola to maximize their multimillion dollar sponsorships via brand exposure) before finally arriving at the host city in time for the opening. It’s then taken through the city streets before finally entering the stadium to cheers, passed on from one torchbearer to another until the big reveal – it’s handed over to someone special who finally lights the cauldron and voila! The Games are official open.

    In one Olympics the flame was lit by an archer; in Atlanta in 1996 it was lit by Muhammad Ali no less, hands shaking from Parkinson’s, an imagery that left many an eye moist from the emotion of the moment.

    In London the opening rites even included Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II herself. But no, she wasn’t the one who lit the flame.

    It wasn’t Mr. Bean or Benny Hill either.

    For the 30th Southeast Asian Games the flame lighting is sure to be a much awaited event at least among Filipinos because it has already become controversial two weeks before the opening of the Games. Critics have lashed out at the P50 million tag for the cauldron, which is not even 1% of the P7 billion budget we taxpayers will have to bear for hosting the Games. Is P50 million too much? It depends on one’s perspective. It could have been more expensive than that or yes it could have been cheaper. In fact, in this day and age of cellphones it could have been a symbolic turning on of the flashlights of all cellphones in the stadium if one wanted to be different (and miserly). I don’t buy the official line that we should note that ours is cheaper than Singapore’s because heck how much richer is Singapore than the Philippines? Neither do I buy the line that the cauldron atop the tower is a monument to whatever, but neither do I buy the criticism that it is a bit over the top because we have our own individual sense of what’s over and what isn’t.

    My only question is “May SOP ba?” and not only in the construction of the cauldron but in the staging of the whole Games. That’s 7 billion, mind you, and in earlier times — decades ago, I mean, — the SOP was 10%. Today?

    But let’s leave that aside for the moment. What I am frankly eager to see about the opening rites is not only the show but how the organizers will pull it off given that every VIP and feeing VIP will be inside the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan (the first time ever that opening rites will be held indoors) while the cauldron that is to be lit is outside the new sports stadium in New Clark City which is actually not in Clark, Pampanga but in Capas, Tarlac!

    Something surprising if not magical is being planned and I would like to see that.

    I am also eager to hear the national anthem played as often as possible throughout the Games as we begin bagging gold medals.

    Other issues we can discuss later.

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