Idolatry went mainstream at the Commonwealth Games at Alexander Stadium in Birmingham., England, last week in an opening ceremony that even its supporters described as “quirky.”
The sporting event became a political platform four years ago when diving gold medallist Tom Daley used his platform to strongly condemn his platform to condemn anti-gay laws in 37 Commonwealth countries strongly. Daley was chosen again to open the games by carrying the Queen’s Baton into the stadium surrounded by rainbow pride flags and joined by runners from Commonwealth nations where homosexuality is banned.
Promotion for the event featured a comical Perry the Bull, the Birmingham mascot. The cartoon character has a dark back story as the town has hosted bull baitings since the 12th century. The bull would be attached to the ring, and dogs would be set on it; this was thought to improve the quality of the meat and make it ‘softer in digestion, as well as provide ‘sport’ for the spectators in the market.
But the centerpiece of the opening ceremony was a 10-meter tall mechanical bull. Fifty people spent more than five months building the monstrosity dubbed “Raging Bull.” This stood in stark contrast to the games themselves, which were heavily promoted as “The Friendly Games.”
The dramatic display, directed by Steven Knight, had the bull led into the Stadium by dancers in a dramatic production with a politicized presentation of history, as described by Wales Online:
The bull is led into the Stadium by underpaid, overworked female chain-makers of the Industrial Revolution, trapped by their own circumstances as they produce the bonds that hold others in the slave trade. The women break free via a minimum wage strike of 1910. The bull itself breaks free because of its huge stature. Stella, the hero of the Opening Ceremony, calms it down by offering it love and light. The emotive section ends with the bull eventually moving towards mutual tolerance after it is riled up once again and cries in pain.
As an expression of this love, the female athletes gather around and embrace the bull.
A creepy element was added at the last minute when the names of the 21 victims killed in the 1974 Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town bombings by the Irish Republican Army were inscribed on its headpiece. The organizers failed to inform the families of the victims who expressed annoyment in the media.
The bull is massive, requiring a 17-ton vehicle to move it around the stadium. Due to its size, the bull cannot be stored away, so the organizers plan to dismantle it. But the bull has a devoted following, and a petition has been set up to save it.
The popular attraction for the creation could be rooted in the bull being one of the oldest forms of idolatry. When Moses delayed in coming down from Sinai, the Children of Israel resorted to creating a golden calf, a form of idolatry they had witnessed in Egypt. In ancient Egyptian religion, Apis was a sacred bull worshiped in the Memphis region and was later adopted by Alexander the Great. The Canaanites worshipped a bull as the depiction of the fertility god Baal. Jereboam erected two golden bulls in the northern kingdom of Israel.