That special time of year is upon us, that quadrennial gathering where the world’s greatest come together to compete for their countries. Fans rejoice in the spirit of the games, cheering on their teams with cries of pride and patriotism. But what is the spirit of the games? Commentators throw the phrase around under the assumption that everybody knows the Olympic message by heart. Let’s look a little further into this saying.
According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), its mission is, among other things, “to encourage and support the promotion of ethics and good governance in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned” (Source: Olympic.org). Quite the mouthful. I interpret it as follows: the IOC exists to promote sportsmanship, fairness, and education through athletics.
But you already knew that. In fact, almost any observer could tell you that civility and understanding constitute a large part of the Olympic message. It’s rather obvious. The question to ask, then, is why some athletes deviate from this spirit. What makes people resort to foul play and cheating in the midst of such a noble competition? What compels the Lady Andrades to sucker punch the Abby Wambachs or the Chinese committee to send athletes it knows are too young to compete?
My hunch is that it’s nationalism. Not nationalism by itself, of course, but in large part this perverted form of patriotism. Driven by blind passion and pride, some athletes come to believe that their country is intrinsically better than those of their competitors. This mindset prompts extreme actions to demonstrate this perceived superiority, such as breaking the rules or trying to hurt another player. In the aggressor’s eyes, this behavior seems perfectly justified.
The irony here is that international sporting events were praised at the end of the 19th century for their potential to prevent this kind of violence. With rampant nationalism spreading throughout the European continent, many commentators believed that peaceful competition could prevent—or at least prolong— the West from slipping into war. Through sports nations could expel their nationalist pride before it devolved into clashes of steel.
So what is the spirit of the games? It is more than sportsmanship and fairness. It is about understanding, putting aside our differences and rejoicing in our shared athletic heritage. These games celebrate our humanity and the pursuit of greatness while respecting one’s competitors. Even in the heat of competition, we must always remember why we stand behind the rings.
So what do you think? Is this the spirit of the games? Let me know in the comments section below! As always, please like, share, or reblog this post if you enjoy it. Be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday!
Comment question of the week
What’s your favorite Olympic event? I’m a fan of soccer, swimming, and women’s beach volleyball!