As the days count down toward the 2012 Olympic Games in London, media attention is gaining steam, with coverage of athletes competing for the chance to represent their countries, logistical and security preparations and animal abuse during the opening ceremonies.
Yes, that’s right. A group called the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) has submitted a petition with 57,000 signatures calling on the Olympic Organizing Committee to drop the use of live animals during the celebratory spectacle scheduled for July 27.
If you have seen these events before, you know they typically involve elaborate productions celebrating the athletes and their countries, but also highlighting the history and culture of the host country.
For this year’s event, Olympic Games Opening Ceremony Artistic Director Danny Boyle plans to portray the United Kingdom’s rural, agrarian roots, by transforming the stadium’s field into the rolling British countryside.
The set, which the London Games official website describes as one of the largest ever built, will include meadows, fields and rivers, featuring families taking picnics, sport being played on the village green and farmers tilling the soil. But that’s not all. British farms often include livestock, and so will this production, with 12 horses, three cows, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese, 70 sheep, and three sheep dogs playing themselves before a stadium audience of 62,000 and a global TV audience expected to exceed a billion people.
There’s the problem, according to CAPS. “Subjecting animals to a crowd of 62,000 people, the noise, lights and atmosphere within the Olympic stadium is irresponsible and has the potential to seriously compromise the animals' welfare,” the petition reads. “We demand that the plans for the use of live animals are withdrawn immediately. The UK prides itself on being a nation of animal lovers - exploiting animals on this global stage is unacceptable.”
The CAPS website describes the organization as “a UK-based charity leading the campaign to end the use of animals in entertainment, particularly circuses, zoos and the exotic pet trade.”
There is no doubt that circus trainers have, in many cases, used abusive, cruel methods to induce animals to perform. And some zoos keep animals in substandard conditions. Well-managed zoos also, however, help protect and propagate endangered species, while educating the public about wildlife and conservation issues.
Likewise, the simulated farms in the Olympic stadium can help educate the people of the UK and of the world about the importance of agriculture to the region’s economy, history and culture. We would hope and expect the ceremony’s managers will ensure the animals are treated well, and return them to real farms after their 15 minutes of fame. CAPS demand for removal of the animals based on the potential for stage fright seems excessive, unless they just view the Olympic Games as a high-profile target presenting an opportunity to attract attention to their cause. But they wouldn’t do that, would they?