Philip Barker

Next month, the acts of remembrance for those who died in war will have a special resonance. It will be exactly 100 years since the guns finally stopped to bring an end to the First World War.

There is a strong desire to remember the fallen and in the years since, simple ceremonies have been more or less unchanged, expect being expanded to embrace the victims of other later conflicts. They are all the more poignant for that.

When the Olympics were revived last century, Baron Pierre de Coubertin was determined to invest them with a special significance.

"The question of the ceremony is the most difficult to resolve," he said. "The Olympiad should above all differ from a mere series of World Championships, it should include solemnity and ceremony."

Ceremonies have since evolved from a simple Parade of Nations and opening to include an oath of fair play and, most famously, the arrival of a flame.

Yet in recent years, they have become made-for-television extravaganzas and sometimes risk losing the Olympic message in the process.

It is always tricky to strike the balance between ceremonial and show.

Since 1992, all but one Ceremony has been staged at night to give the performance a more theatrical appearance, although the time has surely come to rein things in.

Although staged during the daylight hours, the 1980 Moscow Opening Ceremony was the first to really push the boat out in terms of spectacle. 

There were magnificent displays with horse drawn chariots, and superb choreography with towers of colourfully dressed gymnastic dancers.

Even so, they scrupulously respected the traditions of Olympic protocol. Los Angeles followed in 1984. It was the era of the Cold War and they were unashamedly determined to outdo the Russians. 

The Moscow 1980 Opening Ceremony was the first to push the boat out in terms of spectacle ©Getty Images
The Moscow 1980 Opening Ceremony was the first to push the boat out in terms of spectacle ©Getty Images

At the Opening Ceremony at least, they achieved their aim, but many felt that the arrival of a "spaceman'' at the Closing Ceremony was one close encounter too far.

It was a similar story in Atlanta in 1996 when ceremony designers were criticised for including Chevrolet pick-up trucks in a sequence.

Over the years, directors of Ceremonies have often altered the essential elements and not always for the better.

The Olympic Oath, a central part of the Opening Ceremony, was introduced almost a century ago. 

This oath of fair play, modified in the new millennium to include a desire to "renounce doping", is an essential part of the message of the Games. Since 2012, an athlete, a judge and a team coach have all taken the stand but before Pyeongchang 2018, it was announced that this part of the ceremony would be streamlined.

"These three oaths will be merged into one, considerably shortening this segment of the Ceremony,'' said an IOC communique.

It described the Oaths as ''fundamental to the correct communication of the Olympic values and ideals'' so it seemed strange that this particular element should be shortened.

At the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires this month, it was even taken before the Games were officially declared open, albeit after the Olympic flag was hoisted.

This year began with a city getting the Opening Ceremony just right.

Pyeongchang 2018 was laden with symbolism. It could scarcely have been otherwise from the moment it was announced that the two Koreas would march together for the first time in over a decade under the special unification flag. The haunting music of Arirang, a traditional song beloved on both sides of the border, formed an appropriate soundtrack.

It was 30 years since Seoul had astounded the world with a tour de force when the 1988 Olympics began and the performance in the Pyeongchang Stadium was on a par with that.

There was hardly a dry eye in the house when the flame finally arrived in the stadium. It was carried by two Torchbearers, Jong Su Hyon from the North and South Korea's Park Jong-ah. It was a marvelous finale to the entire ceremony before skater Yuna Kim lit the cauldron.

The Parade of Nations had been led according to tradition by the team from Greece. It was exactly 90 years since they were first accorded this privilege at the Amsterdam Olympics.

"It is a great feeling when you enter with the Greek flag because that moment you feel that it is the start of the Olympic Games and that the whole world is looking at you," said Hellenic Olympic Committee President Spyros Capralos. 

"Greece gets the special privilege because they have created the Olympic Games back in the past, and it reminds everybody what Greece has offered the Olympic Movement."

This contribution is also recognised at the Closing Ceremony, but the ritual which does so has been altered significantly in recent years. In the process it has made the symbolism less clear.

Before the new millennium, it was customary for the Greek flag to be raised at the Closing Ceremony, in tribute to the past, followed by that of the current hosts, to represent the present, and then the flag of the next host nation to anticipate the next Games. Unfortunately, organisers have played fast and loose with the ritual and the three flags are hoisted separately at different points in the Ceremony. As a result, the meaning has become somewhat obscured.

The informal entry of athletes at the Closing Ceremony was introduced in 1956 at the suggestion of 16-year-old John Ian Wing, a Chinese-Australian boy who wrote to Melbourne organisers. Even then, there was criticism that many Australian athletes had been placed in the front row of the column and over the years, although the entry has become ever more informal, the groups from each nation tend to stick together as they enter.

As for the striking of the Olympic flag and the playing of the Olympic anthem, it seems that organisers cannot get this particular segment over with quickly enough. This was the case even in the otherwise excellent Sochi 2014 Closing Ceremony.

Designers for other Games have also fallen into the trap, particularly at the Closing Ceremony which often becomes little more than a glorified pop concert.

Even though their station broadcast the ceremony, Australian television presenters Johanna Griggs and Basil Zempilas were very critical of the closing of the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast earlier this year.

The Opening of Pyeongchang 2018 was laced with symbolism ©Getty Images
The Opening of Pyeongchang 2018 was laced with symbolism ©Getty Images

Although Gold Coast organisers promised an ''athlete centered'' Commonwealth Games, there were far too many speeches by politicians of one kind or another. Worse still, the athletes were denied their chance to parade and receive the proper plaudits of the crowd at the conclusion of the Games. 

They were hustled in under half-lights before the televised part of the ceremony had even begun. Many in the stands were left wondering whether things had started or if something had gone terribly wrong. Kurt Fearnley, the Australian flagbearer, should have had a final moment in the spotlight at the end of his career. 

In fact each of the flagbearers had been carefully chosen and to a man and woman they were robbed of their moment. It was little wonder that most of the competitors voted with their feet and walked out of the stadium before the televised Ceremony began. 

They seemed particularly irritated when the stage managers of the Ceremony tried to choreograph them in a dance routine. "Forced fun" at its worst.

Football's World Cup was the biggest event of the summer. Over the years the opening has grown from a parade of flags to representing the teams by local schoolchildren. Who can ever forget the fashion show at the San Siro for Italy 1990 or Diana Ross's spectacular penalty miss at USA 1994? 

Yet in Moscow the opening was stripped back. Robbie Williams performed with Russian soprano Aida Garifullina. Give or take a  brief cameo from Brazil's 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldo, and the arrival of the trophy in the tender care of Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas and supermodel Natalia Vodianova, that was it.

A month or so later, the Asian Games opener in Jakarta tapped into a trend begun at London 2012.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo was seen ''arriving" after an elaborate motorcycle journey through the capital. It had echoes of The Queen's performance with James Bond actor Daniel Craig before London 2012.

As a prelude to the arrival of the flame, lit in New Delhi as a tribute to the first Asian Games in 1951, the stadium glowed red as dancers twirled flaming batons in a dramatic display accompanied by a percussive beat. 

The first bearer was Lanny Gumulya, who won diving gold the last time the Games were held in Jakarta back in 1962. The flame was passed through a succession of great Indonesian champions as it made its way through a set which depicted the forests, hills and mountains of the region in a clear reference to the environment. 

The crowd roared in recognition of the badminton superstar Susi Susanti who lit the cauldron in what looked like a giant volcano.

The delivery of the symbolic fire has become ever more complex with each successive host trying to eclipse what has gone before.

Gone are the days when a single Torchbearer ran straight to the cauldron. In the last 30 years everything from hydraulic platforms, Torchbearers on horseback and a flying trapeze have been used. For many, though, the sight of archer Antonio Rebollo lighting the 1992 Barcelona flame with an arrow from a bow remains a favourite.

The Mediterranean Games in Tarragona had a fraction of the budget but demonstrated that it was still possible to have Ceremonies that delighted with simplicity and dignity. 

Even so, what the opening lacked was a grand finale. There used to be one when an amphora of water from the Mediterranean Sea was relayed to the host city to set in motion a fountain. This was an ingenious event which set the Mediterranean Games apart from all other. 

An actor impersonating Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrives on a motorbike to open this year's Asian Games ©Getty Images
An actor impersonating Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrives on a motorbike to open this year's Asian Games ©Getty Images

Unfortunately, the Relay has long been discontinued. Perhaps the 70th anniversary Games in Algeria in 2021 might be a good time to revive it. International Committee for the Mediterranean Games President Amar Addadi has insisted ''this is a matter for the Organising Committee".

For the Youth Olympics, Buenos Aires took their Ceremony outside the stadium into the Avenida 9 de Julio, a thoroughfare close to the famous obelisk.

The use of the obelisk to depict the sports in the Games was a truly original touch and, of course, there had to be tango. However, as with so many ceremonies, some of the performances seemed a little too long. 

By and large though, the idea worked, although television pictures seemed to suggest that for many spectators the view was rather distant. It also proved impossible to provide a completely clean venue devoid of advertising. At the key moment when acrobats glided in as the Olympic rings descended, an illuminated sign for a hotel nearby could be clearly seen, and through the rings.

The idea of street based ceremonies, more easily available to larger numbers, deserves great credit, although some should be accorded to Evangelos Zappas. 

His revival of the Olympic Games back in 1859 on the streets of Athens took place in the city's Koumoundourou Square.