There’s Still Something Good to Say about the Olympics


August 2, 2021

            New Orleans, The organizers and promoters of the Olympic Games give them a terrible name.

Many times, the IOC, or International Olympics Committee, seems unable to get out of the way and let the athletes have their voice and compete in the fields where they excel.  This year, one women’s team of volleyballers shamed them by wearing shorts, rather than bikini wear, underlining an IOC rule without any justification.  Gymnasts from some countries pushed back as well against the sexualization of their outfits.  The country committees are often even worse, rife with corruption and conflicts of self-interest.  Both are a gumbo of global and local political influence and confounding attempts at diplomatic advantage and prestige.

Then there’s the commercialization, which of course is encouraged and abetted by the various governing committees at every level.  The site selections alone are commercial and political competitions.  The branding and advertising that subsidizes the games permeates everything.  The 2020-21 Tokyo affair in the middle of the pandemic has some poetic justice of sorts since many, large and small, are losing their shirts.  Still, the mighty dollar gets headlines.  The USA winner as overall best women’s gymnast made big news by not cashing out and still agreeing to honor her commitment to enroll at Auburn University in Alabama and compete with them in the coming year.

Her decision goes to the saving grace of the Olympics.  The athletes are still special and force the fans to recognize their skills and individuality.  Simone Biles from Houston, recognized as perhaps the greatest gymnast of all time, refusal to compete, because her head was not aligned with what was needed to prevent injury was a reminder that these aren’t actors or robots, but real human beings who happen to have amazing athletic gifts that they have honed with constant work.

The best thing I can say about the Olympics is that they are humbling.  They offer an antidote to the constant chauvinism that poisons them.  A triple jumping woman is the gold medalist from Venezuela, a pariah state in the daily news.  A Cuban is the star carrying the Polish men’s volleyball team.  An American-raised tennis player with Japanese roots lit the torch as a member of the Japanese team.  An Italian sprinter born in El Paso, Texas, won the 100 meters, surprising himself and everyone else.  His Italian teammate and another high jumper from Qatar, really Qatar, decided to share the gold medal at 7 feet 10 inches.  Jamaican women take all three medals in the sprint.  Again.

It goes on and on like this and is both humbling – and inspiring – because it reminds anyone paying attention that we are people living in one world where achieving more equality is critical in allowing people to collectively rise so that every individual has an opportunity, no matter the accident of birth, to find their place in the sun or at the least the ability to compete on a field finally forced to be even, politics and money be damned.