I have a confession to make: I love the Olympics. I love both the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics, including practically every event. I can’t wait for the action to begin today. According to a news commentator last night, people will no longer sit in front of the TV and watch their favourite sporting events for two weeks, instead using social media and the Internet to keep up with what’s happening. Sorry, call me old-fashioned, but I like my sports on a big screen, on my sofa, watching as much as I can.
I’d like it even better if the media would focus less on the few athletes they have anointed as stars, and more on the breadth and depth of the Olympic Games. Maybe we can just work harder to ignore their patter. The fact is that nearly 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries are competing in 302 events involving 26 different sports. Incredible. These include the big-draw sports and professional star athletes we see throughout the year on the tennis court and on the basketball court. Then there are the stars waiting to shine on the track. And of course there are the amazing marathoners on the road. It also includes athletes who are non-professional by virtue of their chosen sport, and who train arduously in relative obscurity, motivated by their dreams and dedication. These are the athletes who really inspire me.
I wish we got to hear more of the stories of the Olympians who struggle to get to the Olympics. I wish we were encouraged more to appreciate the sacrifices the athletes – and their families – have made to get to the Olympics. I wish we were encouraged more to admire them for the accomplishment of having reached that pinnacle, not just to measure success by winning. And I wish that the politics of their countries did not have to interfere in their personal celebration in any way, shape, or form. To work your heart out in your chosen sport, to put other aspects of your life on hold, to have the talent and the determination to excel, and then to get to represent your country on the world stage, now that’s something to celebrate.
Of course, as I am inclined to overlook too often, if decisions aren’t made as a result of politics, they are made based on money. Not only do Olympic Games cost a lot of money, but people are looking to make money at every turn. Why do I keep forgetting this?! A reminder hit me earlier today in a Washington Post article talking about controversies surrounding women athletes’ Olympic attire. (And I am not talking about the controversy over whether the Saudi Arabian woman judoka should be allowed to wear a headscarf or not; that issue is too complex for this post.) In one instance, it has been determined that women beach volleyball players will now be allowed to trade their bikinis for more modest clothing for the first time, in deference to different cultural norms. This ruling has apparently distressed legions of male spectators. Meanwhile, two international sporting associations – badminton and boxing – wanted to make their female athletes wear skirts instead of shorts. The explanation on the part of the international governing body of badminton was to attract more fans through “a stylish presentation of the players.” The rationale from the Amateur International Boxing Association was to help TV viewers distinguish women from men. Really! Needless to say, these proposals were poorly received by the women athletes. Very poorly received. The choice of shorts or skirts will now be up to the athletes.
I read this with astonishment and then realized that aside from trying to create a larger market – apparently mostly a market of males – these international bodies are creating new markets in sports apparel. The entrepreneurial spirit will not be denied.
Regardless of what outfits they’re wearing, I’m looking forward to applauding all the athletes, especially those whose sports are rarely seen on TV except during the Olympics. It is a treat to be able to watch the best athletes the world has to offer putting everything they’ve got on the line. It is a privilege to watch as they live out their hopes, their struggles, their disappointments, and their personal triumphs. And it is thrilling to watch the pride the athletes take in representing their countries. In my eyes, they’re not representing the governments or policies of their countries; they’re representing the history and proud traditions of their people through sport. That is the spirit in which I will watch these Olympics. Let the Games being!