British royals out in force at London Olympics

Last updated 03:56 03/08/2012
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
Reuters
THE COMMON WAVE: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (C), stands with other spectators as she and her husband, Britain's Prince William attend the men's singles tennis quarterfinals match between Britain's Andy Murray and Spain's Nicolas Almagro.

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Turn on the Olympics and spot a royal.

From the opening ceremony when Queen Elizabeth appeared to parachute in, to the equestrian ring where her granddaughter Zara Phillips won a silver medal, to the spectator stands where royals cheer on Team GB - the British royals are out in force.

Sports analysts said royal involvement with sports events helped strengthen the bond with the common man, and this would be aided at London by young A-listers, princes William, Harry, and Kate Middleton, dressing down and sitting with the crowds.

It is not just the younger royals or the just British ones who are showing their support.

The queen's husband, Prince Philip, was in the boxing arena on Thursday enjoying the action, waving to a few spectators.

Former South African Olympic swimmer Princess Charlene of Monaco - fists pumping as triumphantly as any ordinary fan - was in the crowd with husband Prince Albert, himself a five-time Olympian in the bobsleigh, to see South Chad le Clos snatching the 200 metres butterfly for South Africa earlier in the week.

Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and his wife Princess Maxima were also photographed in orange cheering during the women's beach volleyball between the Netherlands and Argentina, as well as in the stands of the aquatic centre.

"There is a long tradition in history dating back to the Roman Empire of the royal elite being on show at sporting events and participating with everyone else," said Martin Polley, an Olympic historian and sport lecturer at Southampton University.

"Sport is a great leveller and we are most certainly seeing this at London. It does the royals no end of good."

Polley said this tradition at the Olympics dated back to the first modern games in Athens in 1896 when founder, Pierre de Coubertin, involved aristocracy to give the event prestige.

This link remains strong with a long list of royals both competing and involved with the Games over the past century. Currently 12 of 105 members on the International Olympic Committee are royal.

At the opening ceremony too, the VIP box was a Who's Who of world royals including Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe, Denmark's Queen Margrethe, Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri, Malaysia's King Abdul Halim, Tonga's Crown Prince Tupuoto'a Ulukalala, and Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf.

ROYAL COMPETITORS

Spain's Queen Sofia was among the 60,000-strong opening crowd, a former Olympian herself who sailed for Greece at the 1960 Games.

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Phillips, 31, was only the second British royal to compete at an Olympics - following her mother Princess Anne who rode at the 1976 Montreal Games - and the first to win a medal, being presented with a team silver by her mother.

But she joins a royal line to compete at the Olympics where equestrian and sailing tend to be the sports of kings. Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah is also competing at London in equestrian events after also competing at Beijing in 2008.

The first royals to compete were in 1900 in Paris when Count Hermann Alexandre de Pourtales, from an old Huguenot family of Switzerland, won gold and silver medals in sailing with his wife, Countess Helene de Pourtales, in his crew.

At Stockholm in 1912, Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia, a German prince, won bronze in team horse jumping.

Norway's Crown Prince Olav, who became king in 1957, won gold in sailing at the 1928 Amsterdam Games while his son, King Harald from 1991, sailed for Norway in 1964, 1968 and 1972.

Queen Sofia's brother, Constantine II of Greece competed as Crown Prince Constantine at Rome in 1960, winning a gold medal. He was king until the Greek monarchy was abolished in 1973.

Her husband, Spain's King Juan Carlos, sailed for Spain in 1972, three years before becoming king and both of their children, Infanta Cristina and Crown Prince Felipe have sailed for Spain at an Olympics.

Princess Haya of Jordan rode at Sydney in 2000.

Denmark's Princess Nathalie of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg won bronze in the team dressage at Beijing while Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal Alshalan and Prince Abdullah Bin Miteb rode for their country.

Rebecca Hopkins, managing director of sports PR agency ENS Ltd, said Olympic involvement would add to the rising popularity of the British royal family whose efforts to "rebrand" and put an emphasis on younger royals is paying off.

She said the younger royals brushing shoulders with sports fans at the Olympics could only help as did the lack of royal boxes at Olympic venues as it put them with a normal crowd.

"They're going to a range of events, sporting Team GB colours and really look they are enjoying it," said Hopkins. "It has got to be good for them and good for sport."

Olympic organisers and Buckingham Palace declined to comment on security arrangements for royals visiting the Olympics.

Polley said heads of state tried to also jump onto the Olympics bandwagon and the event played an important role in bringing them together with other leaders in an informal way.

The 1992 Barcelona Games, held in the shadow of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela, saw Mandela and Cuba's Fidel Castro among attending dignitaries.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was in London to attend the judo at the Games and meet British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"A lot of the presence of these dignitaries at the Olympics is about behind-the-scenes talks or so-called conversations in the margin," said Polley.

- Reuters

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