The significance of a global sporting event and its ability to unite people
By SANDY CLARKE
When we think of what unifies us, the likes of music and social movements spring to mind. But perhaps standing tall above all else in bringing people together is the world of sports.
This year’s summer Olympic Games event shines its light on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which will host around 10,500 athletes from 206 nations, taking part in over 300 competitions in 42 different sports.
Billions of people around the world will tune in to watch at least some parts of the Games, sharing in the hopes and dreams, the triumphs and defeats, and the emotional highs and lows experienced by all the athletes who have spent much of their lives training relentlessly for their shot at glory.
The Olympic Games espouse the spirit of competition but they also foster camaraderie, compassion and cohesion throughout the world, reminding us that there is far more that unites us than divides us.
What the Games bring to the table
Throughout its history, there’s no denying that the Olympic Games have witnessed their fair share of political and social turmoil. But for many of the cities fortunate enough to win the bid to host the prestigious event, there has been a tremendous legacy left long after the Games have gone.
The sporting spectacle has always provided observers and participants alike with excitement, entertainment, and enthralling displays of finely honed athleticism. But it’s easy to get lost in the exhilaration and exuberance of the Games to the point of being unaware of the lasting benefits that lie far beyond the tracks.
The Olympic Games embody the common humanity we all share. The famous Olympic rings symbol was designed in 1912 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, co-founder of the modern Olympic Games.
Explaining the symbolism behind the design, he said, “. . .the six colours (white background included) combined in this way reproduce the colours of every country without exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tri-colours of France, England, America, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Hungary, and the yellow and red of Spain, are placed together with the innovations of Brazil or Australia, with old Japan, and with new China. Here is truly an international symbol.”
As well as providing a platform for the hundreds of proud nations that take part, the Olympic Games serve to build communities of value within host nations, inspiring qualities of generosity, inclusion, belief, charity, and a renewed sense of effort in helping to transform the lives of all those who are touched by the spirit of the Games.
People in host nations are able to find their voice and have it heard. Communities come together to establish a sense of pride and place in the world. There’s often a reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour, and fear of crime decreases as a result of a shared respect and value for diversity. Post-Games, an increase in capacity of third sector organisations to take ownership of community centres and other facilities empower communities to manage and deliver services, building on an Olympic legacy that serves and inspires for generations to come.
These are just a few of the ways in which the Olympic Games work to inspire communities and instil that spirit of unity, inclusion and striving for excellence for which the Games are best known.
Leaving a lasting legacy for the people
But perhaps the real legacy of the Olympic Games is the example it sets for all of us in its enduring message that no matter who we are, no matter what our circumstance or where we come from; no matter our perceived limitations, setbacks or hardships, we can, all of us, choose to make the best of ourselves by reaching out to others and helping them to make the best of themselves in turn.
Just as triumph born of one moment of glory is rooted in struggle and perseverance, the kind of change that leaves a true and lasting legacy can only come from our perseverance through the struggles we face in the endeavour to make our world a better place.
If the Olympic Games show us anything, it’s this: it’s not winning the gold that makes you a champion, nor is it reaching the finish line before your competitors. Champions are made long before the victory. What separates heroes from also-rans is their dedication to keep going when everything inside them is screaming at them to give up. It’s the belief that they were born for a purpose, and that nothing will ever stand in the way of them fulfilling that purpose.
Every moment counts. In them, we are called on to make the best of who we are and what we’re capable of. That’s the spirit of the Olympic Games. It calls on us to be our own champion, to serve ourselves as well as others. It’s the spirit that whispers to us, “If not now, when?”
4 Cities and their Olympic legacies
Seoul, South korea (1988)
The 1988 Games were described by leaders at the time as “the biggest national project ever undertaken by Korea.” As a means to legitimise a then-authoritarian regime, the Olympic Games became a surprising catalyst for pro-democracy protests, which eventually led to the nation’s leaders being ousted and an elected government taking their place.
The rise of a new democratic and economically stable South Korea saw business investment flourish, transforming the country into the third-largest economy in Asia. The Games also left a positive legacy from a sporting perspective. As training and sports programmes improved, since 1988, South Korea has finished outside the top 10 of the Olympic medal table only once. Prior to 1988, it featured just once inside the top 10.
Barcelona, Spain (1992)
Today, Barcelona is on every respectable traveller’s “must-see” list, and the city has the Olympic Games to thank for its rise to becoming one of the world’s top tourist attractions. The 1992 Games cost around €6.7mil and returned around €12mil in profit. Barcelona was forever changed after hosting the Olympics, boasting an agricultural legacy that will draw visitors for generations to come.
The Palau Sant Jordi operates today as a large music venue and the Olympic Stadium continues to host sporting events, and was previously home to La Liga football club, Espanyol. And if ever there was a timeless anthem to capture the spirit of a city and the Olympic Games, Freddy Mercury’s hit collaboration with Barcelona-born soprano Montserrat Caballe on Barcelona is unlikely to ever be outshone.
Sydney, Australia (2000)
Before the Games in 2000, the site where the Sydney Olympic Park was built was a desolate wasteland. These days, the park is now a thriving hub of activity, attracting over 12 million visitors per year. From music festivals to sports and business conferences, the legacy of the Olympics has been a real boon for the city of Sydney. Most of the sports facilities remained in use, hosting regular competitions and providing recreational activities for visitors including a fitness centre and spa. The AUD690mil main stadium still hosts major sporting events such as cricket and rugby.
Vancouver, Canada (2010)
Hosting the Winter Games, Vancouver has benefited greatly from its Olympics legacy, partly thanks to a substantial fund from local authorities to ensure that sporting facilities are maintained long after the Games had ended. With all games’ venues still in use, the most popular is the Richmond Olympic speed skating Oval—a widely used facility that attracts around 550,000 visitors every year. The Oval is cited as a positive legacy of the Games, having hosted a number of national and international championships across a variety of summer and winter sports.
3 Fun facts about the Olympic Games
1. The first opening ceremonies were held in London
Before 1908, there wasn’t an opening ceremony to be seen. London changed all that, and since then, cities have been striving to outdo one another ever since. Can’t we just have a ribbon for someone to cut and get on with it? (No. The answer is no.)
2. Shoes aren’t required in order to run a marathon
The marathon in the 1960 Rome Games saw the gold medal awarded to Ethiopian runner, Abebe Bekila. He was the first African to win a gold medal, and he wasn’t even wearing shoes. Most of us get a bit achy if we walk to the bottom of the garden barefoot. This guy ran 26 miles. So much for fancy running shoes.
3. Gold medals aren’t pure gold
That’s cheating, surely? But sure enough, gold medals haven’t been pure gold for more than 100 years. Instead, they’re gold-plated silver medals. Athletes probably know this, of course. For any who remain unaware, let’s hope they don’t plan to visit a pawn shop with their medals any time soon.
Inspiring Olympian quotes
“This ability to conquer oneself is no doubt the most precious of all things sports bestows.”
—Olga Korbut (Belarusian gymnast)
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
—Muhammad Ali (American Boxer)
“I don’t think you’re human if you don’t get nervous.”
—Sidney Crosby (Canadian ice hockey player)
“Too many times women try to be competitive with each other. We should help support each other, rather than try to be better than each other.”
—Katarina Witt (German figure skater)
“You’ve got to look for tough competition. You’ve got to want to be the best.”
—Grete Waitz (Norwegian marathon runner)
“We all have dreams. But to make those dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, self-discipline, and effort.”
—Jesse Owens (American Track and Field athlete)
“I hope that this medal inspires the kids at home to put down guns and knives and pick up a pair of trainers instead.”
—Erick Barrondo (Guatemalan racewalker)
“I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.”
—Mia Hamm (American soccer player)
“Girls playing sports is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.”
—Jackie Joyner-Kersee(American track and field athlete)
“If you dream and you allow yourself to dream you can do anything.”
—Clara Hughes (Canadian cyclist)
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Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.