The purpose of the modern Olympic Games is to promote peace and unity within the international community through the medium of sports. The founder, Pierre de Coubertin, saw the games as a way to bring political enemies together.
The modern Olympic Games were inspired by the ancient Olympic Games played during the Roman Empire. Those games lasted for 1,200 years until about A.D. 400, when the games were banned by the Roman emperor at the time. After being involved in many battles, Pierre de Coubertin had the idea that sport could act as a way to build bridges between countries. In 1890 he formed the Union des Sociétés Francaises de Sports Athlétiques.
Four years later, de Coubertin proposed that the modern Olympic Games be created, and delegates representing nine countries agreed to his plan. The first modern Olympic Games were set for 1896 at the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games: Athens. Pierre de Coubertin formed an international committee to organize the games, and this grouping eventually became what is today known as the International Olympic Committee. Since that time, the games have been shared by many countries with the goal of breaking down cultural barriers and bringing people together.
The current games that started this last weekend are in full swing. We sit and watch as athletes from 208 countries around the world come together to compete at the highest level of athletic ability. The physical abilities of these people is truly amazing, performing at levels that most can only dream of. Although most cannot remember there have been problems in the past. Not just disagreements over who won or who made mistakes, but serious disagreements. Those old enough may still remember the Olympics held in Nazi Germany and the overtones that were involved. Not quite so far in the past is the murder and chaos at the games, once again in Germany, but located in Munich this time. The problems were not with the athletes themselves but with others not directly involved in the games.
In just the last few days there have been problems, unfortunately some have been with the athletes themselves. On Sunday buses were being loaded to transport competitors from their housing location to the stadium for the opening ceremonies. The members from Lebanon were loaded on a bus and the members from Israel were supposed to board the same bus for transport. The Lebanese made the driver close the door so the Israelis could not board. They refused to ride in the same bus with them. Another bus had to be brought in to transport the Israelis. When the bus driver finally reopened the door the Lebanese team members physically blocked the door, refusing to let the Israeli members from entering the bus. The very next day a female judo competitor from Saudi Arabia forfeited her first round match. There seems to be controversy over the reason, one being she was hurt during practice, the other however is that she would have compete with an Israeli in her second round event.
Then there is the controversy concerning the opening ceremony concerning who was going to carry the American flag at the head of the American athletes. CNN host W. Kamau Bell made a request of Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps: please relinquish the honor of carrying the U.S. Flag at the Olympics Opening Ceremony — an honor bestowed on you through decades of achievement — to a female Muslim Olympian. Because it would, to Bell, nullify the most contentious, controversial, scandal-ridden, hateful, xenophobic, jingoistic, and just generally unlikable presidential elections in recent memory.” Apparently Michael’s years of work and dedication which has made him the winner of the most Olympic medals by any single competitor was not worthy of the honor of carrying the flag of our country. It seems Mr. Bell would rather have Ibtihad Muhammad, a world champion female fencer be given that honor. Why her, because one, she is female, two, she is a Muslim, and three, she is the first American competitor to wear a hijab during competition. He was challenged, not on the grounds of athletic achievement but on the fact that he is “rich and white” vs. “female and a hijab wearing Muslim”.
As a side not on the above controversy even presidential candidate Hillary Clinton got into the act. She lavished praise upon Ibtihad for her ground breaking achievements, again for being a female hijab wearing Muslim, with little mention of her ability at fencing that got her to the Olympics. I think most Americans are proud of her, but, it is because of the time and dedication it took her to get there, not because of her gender, religion or dress code. It is too bad that she was defeated in her first round of competition. Did Hillary bother to give any credit to the first gold medal won by an American? No, she did not have a thing to say about Ginny Thrasher who won the first gold for America in a shooting event. An individual, female, white, shooting a gun wins a gold and Hillary says nothing – imagine.
So now, 120 years later we are now watching this grand idea in action. It seems that the purpose of the games have been lost in time. What has happened to the promotion of peace and unity within the international community? What has happened to the idea that sport could act as a way to build bridges between countries? What has happened to the goal of breaking down cultural barriers and bringing people together?