View from the Sofa: Imagine! They're Gaga in old Baku for peace, happiness and the Hadron Collider

Baku 2015 Opening Ceremony, BT Sport 1

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The Independent Online

Opening ceremonies of huge sporting events are frequently banal. They are almost always overblown. And they are often served with a massive amount of cheese. But it is rare that they are downright offensive, as parts of the pyrotechnic-filled preamble to the 2015 European Games in Baku were.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some genuinely impressive bits of Friday’s extravaganza, like the “desert” in the centre of the stadium, which sprouted plants before fire spread forming the shape of a human, or the man on a flying carpet singing a haunting traditional tune that sounded almost as spine-tingling as something from the late Sufi musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

There were weird parts as well, such as the photo of the Large Hadron Collider which flashed up, followed by a series of CERN scientists explaining in turn why the massive atom-smashing ring they work with in Switzerland is the same as the inaugural European Games.

But Lady Gaga? Singing “Imagine”? Please. I almost spat out a mouthful of plov (I was going native for this) when, around an hour into the show, the fateful words were spoken: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome...”

The woman who once thought it prudent to wear an outfit made of raw meat, she of the silly hats and “Poker Face”... what did she have to do with sport – or Europe?

Nothing, it transpired. It seems she was merely there to deliver what was possibly the most ill-judged song to accompany any multi-sport event, let alone one shrouded in controversy owing to the ethically questionable, oil-rich government which had rubber-stamped the billions spent on the staging of the Games.

As Gaga began caterwauling John Lennon’s utopian ballad with lyrics like “Imagine no possessions”, no doubt the mega-rich ruling family chortled. As would the soldiers stationed on the Azerbaijan border, guarding the uneasy ceasefire with Armenia, have revelled in Gaga imploring them to “Imagine there’s no countries”. According to her (or Lennon, more to the point), it isn’t hard to do, after all.

What was worse came towards the end, when she began improvising, ad-libbing “peace and happiness” (possibly for the benefit of the prisoners of conscience still locked up in the country). At least afterwards she was canny enough to thank Baku “for everything”. By which we presume she meant the fat cheque and swanky hotel room.

Later, the head of the organising committee and wife of the president, Mehriban Aliyeva – like Gaga, a self-appointed leader with millions of followers who get fierce when criticised – delivered a speech laden with platitudes like “a new chapter” and a “burning spirit” which touches “the hearts of every Azerbaijani”, as well as a hard sell aimed at the International Olympic Committee members in the audience about how economically stable the country is, how quickly everything for the Games was built and please can we stage the real Olympics one day?

Because that’s what this whole exercise was about – indeed, it’s why Lady Gaga was there: to get the place noticed.

Not that the host broadcaster, BT Sport, is playing ball. A clip of a boneheaded Australian rugby league player breaking the arm of a fellow bonehead while arm-wrestling has greater prominence on its website than Baku 2015. Imagine that.

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