London is gearing up for the Olympic Games 2012 which is being seen as a great event for the country, especially for reviving the economy that is not faring so well. As always is the case when a country is hosting this important event, everything is being done on a mega scale.
The Londoners are taking no risks considering the possibility of anything going averse, and therefore the existing police force is being strengthened by thousands of personnel being called in from other areas and being given special training to tackle anything that may arise at such a big event.
Parking schedules, train timetables and routes have been announced way ahead of the event, so that the people of the city and those coming in for the Games don't face any problems.
London Olympic Games 2012 is not only an event of glitz and glamour but also has the honour for seeing some extraordinary firsts: the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee has named two female athletes who will compete in the Olympic Games for the first time ever.
The two Saudi female athletes are Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, a judo competitor and 800 metres runner Sarah Attar. However, the President General of Youth Welfare (Ministry of Youth and Sport) and President of Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal told the media that the female sportswomen would have to follow certain rules which included that the female athletes must be accompanied by a male guardian, 'wear suitable clothing that complies with sharia' and they must not mingle with the males at the Olympic Games. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge has termed this as 'very positive news' and 'an encouraging evolution', while Human Rights Watch has deemed this as a significant step forward for women in the Gulf state.
And although every National Olympic Committee will have sent women to the London Games, many are still sceptic. Sarah, from Pepperdine University in California and Wodjan live outside the Kingdom and carry almost no influence as sports figures in Saudi Arabia. But Sarah remains undeterred. "A big inspiration for participating in the 2012 Olympics for me is being one of the first women from Saudi Arabia to be going," Sarah Attar said in a video interview posted online by the IOC. "It's such a huge honour for me and I hope that it can really make some good strides for women over there to get more involved in sports."
When it comes to women in Saudi Arabia, the world's knowledge about them is intimately shaped by the law preventing women to drive in the Gulf state. But now ordinary Saudi women will have a great opportunity to represent themselves and project an image of their country that goes beyond conventional stereotypes.
This unprecedented but welcome step has caused two other Muslim countries - Qatar and Brunei - to also send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time. In fact, Qatar is going one step better and has decided that the country's flag will be carried by a female athlete at the opening ceremony of the Games.
Interestingly, Ancient Olympic Games held as early as 776 BC (according to recorded history) was an all male event and women were not allowed to participate unless they entered their horses in the equestrian events.
This was a sacred religious event, until it was banned as a pagan festival in 393 AD, and therefore taken more seriously than war, which was one of the most important events in the ancient world. The importance of the Games for the ancient world can be understood by the fact that a general truce was called for a month before the Games were scheduled to ensure that people could attend this mega event from far and wide.
However, it is interesting to note that the first ever Olympics was a one-day event with only one event - a 600 feet sprint called the stade.
Back then every event and the ensuing festivities were held on a grand scale. However, unlike the ancient Olympics which was held in Olympia, the event is held in a different country which is selected by the IOC.
Another major difference between the Games then and now is that the participants of the ancient Olympic Games used to be nude; meanwhile nowadays they wear the colours of their own countries.
Also the participants had to be men who spoke Greek and had to be free men and not slaves, as against today where people from others countries take part in the Games.
Winners today usually get medals of gold, silver and bronze, while back then the perks were bigger - they got the sacred olive wreath crown, a hero's welcome back home, free meals, invites to parties, best seats in the theatre and last but not least they could marry rich women.
An interesting fact is that during the ancient Olympic Games only males and unmarried girls were allowed to attend and if they violated this rule they were punished. So much for a day at the games! It seems like the Greek society was unmarried women friendly since they had their own festival during the Games - even though these were held in the honour of Hera, wife of the god Zeus, after every four years.
Over the years many things have changed, however the tradition of all male sportsmen at the Olympic Games was carried on through the centuries and the first time women attended as participants in the Olympic Games was when the games were held in Paris, France in the early 20th century. Since then more sportswomen joined the Olympic squads of their countries. Pakistan has yet to acquire an Olympic medal for a female event, but has managed to get a few for the male events - ten medals, eight from men's field hockey. Let's see how the Pakistani athletes do this time. Here's hoping they do us proud and bring a couple of medals back home.