THIS year’s Olympics will be a fortuitous one for oxen. Unlike the Ancient games there will be no 100 beast sacrifice to top god Zeus.
Recent weather suggests the ruler of Mount Olympus is none too happy about this and has been bandying about his supreme power over the skies in punishment.
But he seems to have come around now – perhaps he’s a big fan of McDonalds fries – and in the days running up to the opening ceremony has treated the host nation to a patch of celebratory weather.
Slaughtering oxen is not the only tradition from the original Olympics to fall by the wayside since the Games were revived in 1896.
Athletes no longer remove all their clothes to compete, which is just as well for pre-watershed live TV viewing. However, it would be a nice change of scenery for the people whose job it is to put little mosaic tiles over the faces of anonymous witnesses in Panorama.
The other thing the modern Olympics hasn’t carried over from the ancient games is this: artistic expression is no longer as important to the event as sport.
In Ancient Greece, artists as well as athletes would gather to compete against each other in contests that were just as significant as the races and feats of strength.
Despite Baron Pierre de Coubertin, one of the founders of the modern Olympics, being very keen on the idea of bringing back the artistic competition too, it never really took off.
It’s not a huge leap of faith to say that naked jiggly bits and oxenicide are generally considered to be the sort of thing that might spoil your enjoyment of the 100m hurdles.
But celebrating artistic achievement alongside athletic prowess would add another dimension, and help to remind everyone that the Olympic spirit is about more than gold medals.
London 2012 has gone some way to revive the tradition with its Cultural Olympiad – a four-year celebration of the arts that began in 2008 and has reached more than 16 million people who have attended or taken part in performances across the UK.
It’s not a competition because we don’t tend to think of the arts in that way anymore – cue laughter from anyone chasing box office sales, funding, viewing figures or who are nominated for the Turner, Northern Arts or John Moores Painting prizes.
While some of the programming has seemed little more than a token gesture to include the disgruntled regions, whose taxes are funding a Games most people will not get to experience first hand, it has proven how the arts can be a vehicle for inclusion.
Here in Merseyside, under the Cultural Olympiad we have young people helping to create an epic play, The Ripple Effect, that will be performed by groups across the country, Liverpool’s disability and deaf arts festival DaDaFest is continuing to challenge perceptions and demand basic human rights for all and, later this summer, a column of cloud by artist Anthony McCall will rise above the Wirral docklands in the sort of dramatic cultural event that people have come to expect from the area since Capital of Culture year.
It’s pretty hard to compete with that.