“This time next year it will be Ramadan and the Olympics”
That was one of the comments I made, as a panellist at the University of Northampton’s recent conference on the London Olympics 2012.
I live in East London and on my way to work every day I see the Olympic stadium being built. For those of you that don’t know this part of London too well, here are two quick generalisations: it’s urban, and culturally diverse. Even before London won the Olympic bid and local taxi firms, kebab shops and barbers were trying to cash in on the Olympics, through changing their names and shop fronts – it was like we already lived the Olympics anyway.
In East London, many shops proudly show off their heritage and display flags. Walking down my local roads today, I saw heritage branded shops from: Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Somalia, Spain, Thailand, Turkey… oh yeah and England (^_~) represented. From a Nation Branding perspective, having the Olympics in London raises some interesting questions. I think the idea that our small countries have managed to trick the world into allowing us to compete as a Great British team, works on foreign soil. However now it’s on our doorstep, how can we make sure that those in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (and even the North of England) feel that it’s theirs too – rather than just a London games. Also, some sports like football are finding added challenges when creating a British team.
If I was to be honest, most people seem to be more excited about the opening of a new Westfield shopping mall in East London. But can you blame us, the Olympics has been a strange affair so far. For example, we were promised an International train station, offering an addition Eurostar destination (connecting us to France and Brussels). Yes, they are spending hundreds of millions to build it, but now no Eurostar due to cuts! Also it appears unlikely that any other replacement international train operators will be able to make a bid until after the games.
This month a local council in East London shut some of the borough’s sports facilities, again due to cuts. This all seems a bit strange, what with the countdown to the Olympics plastered over the media. With this closure, it meant that the martial arts club where I train, after over 30 years of being at the same facilities, was given about 30 days notice of the closure. I am pleased to say though that we found a local church willing to take us in.
So what’s my point?
If it’s not in connection with the Olympics, then Muslims anyway love to debate ideas of national identity – and it’s full of paradoxes. Also we have all witnessed the consequences of being overly ambitious in building projects; and seen brands created, which are maybe nothing more than a shell of promises. This clip of a mega-Islamic Center that was planned in London illustrates how easy it is to create a dream and then generate endless column inches of concern. If you do an Internet search now, then you’ll find very little more recent information on this project at all.
So especially in Ramadan, Muslims like to reflect on who they are, what they can achieve and what legacy they will leave behind.
The Olympics could be such a great opportunity for the British Muslim community to connect with the rest of the world and what better month than Ramadan.
East London is full of mosques and ethnocentric stores, which could become beacons for spectators and athletes to hook up. Perhaps the best way to do this would be through social media – because if we look at the strangle hold of sponsors like Visa, it really is going to be tough for entrepreneurs to get a foothold in the games. So those of you thinking of knocking up a halal hotdog stand: you might not be able to get close to the action, and your Muslim consumers may not be eating much for about 17 daylight hours! With Muslim consumer led activities, this would also perhaps have the effect of alleviating the usual concerns, which they pin on Muslims – as played out in the YouTube clip above.
It would be safe to say that closer to next Ramadan and the Olympics, if consumers don’t do it, then sooner or later the big corporates will speak on their behalf. Reem commented in her last post on the commercialisation of Ramadan. This year, I recall seeing a Ramadan food section in my local Tesco superstore a whole month in advance. It was also quite fascinating to see what supermarkets consider to be essential items for Ramadan. Sure, there were sacks of rice and pyramids of samosas. But maybe they could also have some Qur’ans, as supermarkets already sell other books. I think Reem’s made some good points – and it would appear that from a consumption perspective, Muslim events in a lot of ways are about replicating Christian events. Has anyone bought a Ramadan advent calendar yet?
But hey, more retailers are starting to love Muslims. On Friday 29th July, Sebastian Shakespeare commented in the London Evening Standard Newspaper: “How I love the law of unintended consequences. This week it was reported that the French burka ban is helping Britain cash in on overseas shoppers. Liberty and Selfridges have seen the number of international visitors increase by 45 per cent and 40 per cent respectively as Middle Eastern tourists find London more welcoming that Paris.
It’s also great to see victory for the headscarf, with the American Weightlifting Association making allowances for Kulsoom Abdullah, by relaxing their policies on showing head, neck, arms and legs.
However, Iran’s female soccer team had to forfeit an Olympic qualifier match in Jordan, due to players wanting to wear the hijab. International governing body FIFA say hijabs present a health and safety risk – which is why they also stamped out the fashion of snoods in the English Premier League.