| Muhammad Ali |
London: International figures including Muhammad Ali and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi are among the candidates that have been considered by London 2012 to play a part in the opening ceremony of the Games and the final stages of the Olympic flame’s journey into the stadium.
According to sources, ceremony director Danny Boyle and his team have considered the merits of asking Ali, who lit the cauldron at the Atlanta Games in 1996, and the Myanmar opposition leader who was released from 15 years of house arrest last year, to take up roles.
Suu Kyi was in the UK last month and was granted the rare honour of addressing both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. London 2012 organisers are understood to have approached her during the visit to discuss whether she would be available for the opening ceremony.
She has indicated she will be spending the summer in Myanmar, but Ali is scheduled to be in London for a fund-raising event at the Royal Albert Hall two days before the opening ceremony.
While it is unlikely that either he or Suu Kyi will have the honour of lighting the cauldron, that international figures of their stature have been considered demonstrates that Boyle is casting the net far wider than previously thought.
According to London 2012, plans for the lighting of the cauldron have not been finalised, but planning for who and how the cauldron will be lit is at an advanced stage.
Debate in the UK has mostly focused on the relative merits of British candidates for one of the great honours of the Games, with Sir Steve Redgrave and Roger Bannister featuring high on many lists. Both are thought to have signed confidentiality agreements with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, suggesting they might have a role in the closing moments of the ceremony.
As well as Redgrave and Bannister, Daley Thompson, a hugely popular figure and close friend of Coe’s, has been discussed. So too have Dames Kelly Holmes and Mary Peters. Discussions are also continuing about David Beckham’s involvement now that he has been left out of the football squad.
London’s consistent theme of using the Games to “Inspire a Generation” means organisers will also consider leaving the final honour to a young person, a “golden child” who represents the target audience.
The final decision will be made by a Locog subcommittee comprising Boyle, head of ceremonies and fellow Oscar-winner Stephen Daldry, 2012 chairman Lord Coe and chief executive Paul Deighton, and head of communications Jackie Brock-Doyle.
Such is the sensitivity around the ceremony that government might try to seek sign-off, although culture secretary Jeremy Hunt told The Daily Telegraph that he did not know and had not asked who would be involved.
Some or all of the candidates could feature in the final stages of the torch’s journey into the Olympic Stadium. The possibility of multiple lighters cannot be ruled out. A key part of the closing ceremony is thought to be the lighting of the five Olympic rings, a device that would allow more than one candidate to play a part were the five lit rings to converge into a single flame.
The final location of the cauldron is also still unknown, but there are suggestions that it might be movable, capable of being transferred from outside the stadium to the heart of the arena.
Whatever the final decision it is unlikely to be formulaic or predictable. Boyle has already impressed with the originality of his thinking. The ceremony seems almost certain to have a mildly political undercurrent, with elements celebrating the public servants of the NHS and the national history of protest.