…Thoughts on the Olympic Games and our world today
The Olympic games began last week Friday and will run for about two weeks. This is one event that almost didn’t hold as the coronavirus pandemic tried to throw a spanner in the works. The event was moved forward by a year and was still threatened by the third wave of the pandemic. Thankfully, Japan has instituted several measures to ensure the events are held, such as putting a spectator ban in place. This is the first time in Olympic history that the games will not allow spectators but Tokyo has experienced a rise in covid-19 cases: this is a small sacrifice to make.
I sat glued before the TV last week Friday as I watched the opening ceremony. Thinking back, I must have watched the opening (and closing) ceremonies of the last few Olympic Games, ditto for the FIFA World Cup. Watching these ceremonies classify as my contribution to the world of sports considering that I have never been a sportsman. I never engaged in any sports until about four years ago when I started brisk walking if that counts as a sport.
The opening ceremony was truly wonderful as the Japanese told their stories beautifully through various performances. The parade of nations was the highlight of the event for me. As soon as it was announced that the countries would come out, not in the English alphabetical order but the order of the Japanese alphabet, I quickly searched for the parade list on Google. I wanted to know when Nigeria would come up. Traditionally, as the founding country for the games, Greece came up first while France and the United States came up at the rear just before Japan as hosts for the 2024 and 2028 Olympic games, a new arrangement.
Each nation turned out in beautiful cultural attire, sporting outfits, or just formal sportswear, with all participants wearing different kinds of face masks, all adding colour to the parade. I couldn’t help noticing some things as I watched nation after nation walk across the stadium. Some of the things that struck me include:
- Practically all of the attending nations have suffered human and economic losses in the last eighteen months due to the pandemic. Irrespective, these nations are all at the event. Sports does bring people together, through the good and the bad
- The presence of the Refugee Olympic team was a reminder that there are still humanitarian issues all over the world leading some people to flee their homeland in search of opportunities and increase their chances of survival
- Russia is competing as the “Russian Olympic Committee” because they were banned for previous doping offences. Any medals the athletes win will not be attributed to Russia. Holding people and nations accountable is very important and Russia, irrespective of its might and Olympic history, is not an exception
- The games welcome countries that are not member states of the United Nations such as the Cook Islands and territories of larger nations such as the British Virgin Islands. It is clear that inclusiveness is important to the International Olympics Committee
- For the third time, Saudi Arabia featured female athletes. They never fielded female athletes before the London 2012 games and this time, they have two women. Conversely, the United States team has more women than men this year. Women play a key role in society and more opportunities for participation in all spheres of life must be available to them
The Olympics is all about the celebration of global unity through sports. With various events featuring sportsmen and women vying for the highest sporting accolades, the joy of winning and the agony of defeat are unavoidable. Irrespective, all who participate in the games are already winners as the qualification process is gruelling enough. Whilst winning is important, participation is equally as important as it is the highest-ranked sporting event in the world.
The Olympics also provides an opportunity for the world to lay aside its problems for a little while and there are indeed many of those at this time: the coronavirus pandemic and its effects, wars and killings, displacements, environmental issues, to name a few. In reality, we cannot forget these issues as the games serve to highlight that, even though not everything is alright in the world, we can come together to find a way to unite.
Even though it is glaringly obvious, it had never occurred to me that, all of the nations and territories of the world meet at the games irrespective of the state of their diplomatic relations. Amongst all the participating nations are enemies and allies who have to compete with and not battle with each other.
For example, Israel and Palestine are present, even though they have been attacking themselves for a while. Same for Ethiopia and Eritrea. Syria and all its enemies, its allies such as Iran and all the enemies they have made based on their allegiance with Syria are also worthy of note. These nations have to lay aside their issues and compete fairly.
Not everyone agrees with this approach though as characteristically, some nations use the opportunity of the games to express solidarity with or grievance against issues or other nations. A major case in point was when over sixty nations decided to boycott the Moscow 1980 Olympic games. Their decision was based on the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.
Even Nigeria boycotted the Montreal 1976 Olympic games, in solidarity with twenty-nine other countries, mostly African. The decision was based on the fact that the New Zealand national rugby union team had toured apartheid South Africa earlier in 1976, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had refused to ban them for that action even though the United Nations had placed a sporting embargo on South Africa.
This year, an Algerian judo athlete also decided to withdraw from the Olympics. His decision was based on conviction because he could not imagine competing with an Israeli athlete as Israel has been at loggerheads with Palestine. In his words, he wanted to “send a message to the whole world that Israel is an occupation, a lawless country, a country without a flag.” For the record, Algeria does not officially recognise Israel.
If all the nations can put aside their differences to compete with themselves during the games, I just wonder why we can’t extend this “truce” to life after the Olympics. Sports unite and we need to lean on its benefits. Can we ever walk away from the Olympic games with a more unified world? Well, time will tell. I don’t think I should hold my breath though. Our global issues are quite complex and we would need to adopt some of our sporting ethos: fair play, equity, in resolving our issues but are we ready? This is the way I see things today.