The Olympic Spirit
Of everything we’ve lost in the sports world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, today is the saddest day of all for me.
Today was supposed to be the Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In a season of life where, at various times, we have been isolated or relegated to our houses or otherwise cut off from other humans, what could bring humanity back together like the Olympics?
Before I go any farther, let me say that it was unequivocally the right call to postpone the Olympics until next summer. There is almost a 100 percent chance that bringing thousands of athletes together from all over the world to live alongside one another in a village would have resulted in a large outbreak of coronavirus.
Perhaps the Olympics could have gone to a “bubble model” similar to the NBA or MLS (once again, the athletes do all live in a village together), but that option just doesn’t seem feasible for an event of this magnitude.
Back to the Opening Ceremonies:
Tonight we would have had the opportunity to witness a beautifully imagined display of Japanese art and culture. Prior to the parade of nations, the Opening Ceremonies are an opportunity for the host country to show the watching world what they are all about.
So one of the greatest joys of the Olympic games is learning about other cultures. Most specifically, it’s an opportunity to learn about the host country through the eyes of Mary Carillo’s human interest and cultural segments, which are sprinkled throughout the Games.
Something else we will miss tonight is seeing the sheer joy on athletes’ faces as they walk into the Opening Ceremonies representing their country. This is equally true for countries like America who have hundreds of athletes competing as it is for Tuvalu, which had one athlete in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Millionaire NBA players like Kevin Durant are just as overwhelmed at the privilege of walking into the Olympic Stadium representing their country as the amateur athletes you’ve never heard of who won’t sniff a medal. It is an honor for an athlete just to make it. Just to walk into the stadium.
Another part of the Olympics I will really miss is learning the backstories on so many of the athletes and finding a vested interest in their success. Over the course of the Games, we are introduced to so many athletes who have worked tirelessly to achieve the heights they are currently attaining. More often than not, they are people you’ve never heard of, but suddenly, nothing else matters more to you than their success.
Without the Olympics this summer, we won’t get to see Katie Ledecky obliterate the rest of the women swimmers.
Without the Olympics this summer, we won’t get to witness Simone Biles’ combination of beauty and brute strength, wrapped up in a 4-foot-8 frame, dominating the gymnastics events.
Without the Olympics this summer, we’ll have to wait another 12 months to find out who will be the new “Fastest Man on Earth”, now that Usain Bolt will relinquish that title after winning the 100-meter dash for the past three Olympic Games in a row.
All of these things are great, and very valid reasons to be sad about the postponement. But here’s why I’m most sad:
Tonight would have represented the coming together of the nations of the world under the banner of sports. More importantly, it would have represented the nations of the world coming together under the banner of peace.
You see peace amongst the nations is one of the foundational, central tenets of the Olympics. During the two-plus weeks of any Olympic Games, the nations of the world are encouraged to not only cease fighting and observe the “Olympic Truce”, but to actively pursue talks towards reconciliation.
In fact, the United Nations asks members “to observe the Olympic Truce, and work towards the settlement of international disagreements by peaceful and diplomatic means.”
Sure, the Olympics means two weeks of wall-to-wall sports. But it also provides a moment in time to pull back from the craziness of life and remember that we are all human. It’s a moment to both be proud of your home country, but also to be reminded that this world is not just about certain countries surviving, while others struggle. The Olympics is a beautiful reminder of all that we share in common. It’s so much more difficult to hate someone when you realize they’re every bit as much of a human as you are. It’s so much more difficult to hate someone when you realize that they’ve trained just as hard as you. It’s so much more difficult to hate someone when you realize that, though we compete under different flags, the Olympics are a celebration of what the human body can achieve.
So this summer, even though we won’t have the Olympic Games, what if we still had the Olympic Truce? What if we still took an opportunity to lay aside our differences? What if we used these two weeks to work towards the greater good of all humankind, rather than just what’s best for me or my country.
I know that many will call me naïve.
I know that many will say this is a silly ask.
But, what if it happened?
In the middle of a global pandemic, during these two weeks that the Olympics were supposed to take place, I call on the countries of the world to stop fighting one another and honor the standard Olympic Truce.
Instead, let’s fight to find common ground and then stand on it. Let's stand arm-in-arm with people whose skin color doesn't look like our own. Let’s fight together to take care of the people of the countries that can’t take care of themselves. We were not created to be divided from one another. We were created to love. We were created to fight for the good of ALL humankind. It’s high time we acted on it.
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