The Olympics are more than an international athletic competition. The ancient Greeks started the Olympics as a celebration and exaltation of olympism, an ideal of mind, body and spirit balanced within sports, culture and education. The goal, it seems, was to cultivate harmony through sport and education without discrimination, allowing mutual understanding through friendship and fair play to take the place of intense prejudices. The mission of the Olympics and the International Olympic Committee today is to promote this ideal on a global level. So far during the 2012 London Olympics, athletes and countries have chosen to undermine the ideals of inclusiveness and olympism.
Both Greek athlete Paraskevi Papachristou and Swiss athlete Michel Morganella were expelled for racist and insensitive tweets made after losing. Papachristou’s crass joke about Africans and the West Nile virus and Morganella’s derogatory tweet about South Koreans are indicative of sore losers. Insults like this only work to undermine the olympism ideal of harmonious development of athleticism.
During the opening ceremonies, London held a memorial for the lives lost during the terrorist attack on the London subways in 2005. Believing this memorial did not tie in with their coverage of sports and entertainment, NBCUniversal chose not to broadcast the memorial, instead inserting an interview between Ryan Seacrest and Michael Phelps. If the Games do not serve the interests of Americans, it is not broadcast. The Olympics are about a global community coming together, not advertising any particular country over another. NBC’s decision undermines the inclusive beliefs of the Olympics.
Iran and Israel, letting the hostility between the countries affect their athletes, have refused to even practice next to one another. This directly confronts Article 6 in the Olympic Charter, which states that the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes, not countries. What kind of solidarity can be found between athletes in a friendly but intense competition when countries interfere?
The IOC has taken these problems in stride, disciplining and cooperating with the athletes or countries who fail to follow the olympism ideal. The Olympics try to be global and inclusive, but the animosities during the rest of the year seem to destroy what the Olympics are all about.
Despite the hostility brought to the Games by countries and their representatives’ actions, the IOC has made leaps and bounds in inclusiveness. For the first time, there is at least one woman on every country’s team. This is a victory for gender equality on a global scale; the women on the Saudi Arabia team are showing their own country (where women are not permitted to play most sports) what is acceptable. The controversial female volleyball bikinis are no longer mandatory, allowing teams with stricter rules about modesty to be able to participate.
Olympism is not dead in the Olympics, but it is struggling to survive the bitterness that pervades countries for the rest of the year. Countries seem to only participate to show how great they are, rather than attempting a harmonious balance for a few weeks every two years. If this kind of antagonism continues to plague the Olympics, how much longer can the olympism ideal endure?