Sunday, August 12, 2012

Unity, Pride and Nationalism of the Olympic Games

Different colored Olympic rings representing five continents

I missed out on the opening, but managed to catch the closing ceremony of London 2012. In-between I watched some of the sports off and on, had to contend with what events the Canadian network offered and what fit into my schedule while not taking the Games as seriously as to sacrifice sleep over it.

There are some who oppose the tradition of the Olympic Games. One of the main problems is its immense cost. To my knowledge, the costs are greater than the benefits although official figures demonstrate more cautious “hit” or “miss” records. The building of arenas, fortification of the infrastructure, security expenditures, and of course, the cost of opening and closing ceremonies are among some of the expenses.

Why would nations still make bids for the Olympics if they are not always economically viable? Perhaps it is about advertising, to put one's country - and by extension nation - on the map, to celebrate and propagate one's culture and achievements, to stimulate tourism.

People are opposed to the Games for various reasons. The money could be spent for more charitable purposes. The Olympic Games are fostering nationalism as a form of mind control since they seem to wield more power than the United Nations (at least they are a more popular organization) and they may have their own secret political agenda.

Here is my response to the naysayers. Sure, the money could be spent in more humanitarian ways. We could help to lessen poverty both nationally and internationally instead. But look at it this way. At least, the money is not going to be spent in worse ways. It is not wasted on military equipment, on planes and bombs or any other destructive plans and organizations.

As to the second point, although nationalism may be suspect and may provide fodder for future wars, in all fairness, what the Olympics promote are competitiveness and pride, and these could serve rather peaceful purposes. The idea is to be the country with the best and most medal-wielding athletes. If it is a kind of war, then it is of the type I prefer most. No corpses, no civilian deaths or bombings, rather only humiliation and shame for the losing teams, at least seen from its most radical viewpoints. If your lack of medals entices you to produce more and better athletes, then so be it. Less nuclear arms, better sports facilities is my motto.

As to national pride, yes, it can be troublesome. But it can also bring people together. The Games have not been as “bad” as soccer championships where the fans tend to be more radical and in some of which there have been ongoing allegations of racism and unsportsmanlike conduct. The Olympics have a more general peaceful ambiance where the spectators and fans seem to be more accepting of other countries and are not as fanatic about the whole thing.

As a matter of fact, the Games can give people a sense of unity. You have your own country to cheer for and if you are good and lucky enough to get a medal, it can be seen as a source of both individual and national pride. Nothing wrong with that. Considered from the point of view of an athlete, this event is so much more valuable due to the fact that it is on such rare occasions that one may compete, only every four years. That brings up the tension of the moment and the value of the medal, regardless of its color.

Yes, there is always drama and heartbreak and this is not a bad thing. It adds up to making it more interesting and spectacular for all alike. What stands out for me personally is the Canadian women's soccer team that was robbed of its berth in the finals due to questionable decisions of the referee. Unfortunately, I missed out on the badminton scandal, but I think it must be hilarious to have athletes trying really hard to lose. That in itself is amusing.

The only thing I disagreed with was the disqualification of the female German rowing athlete Nadja Drygalla, a case brought before me by my German friend and ex-wrestler Rudi. She was accused of having a neo-Nazi boyfriend, yet she did not nor had ever expressed any racist views on or off the Olympics. 

Although I do question her intelligence, I think what matters most is the athletic achievement instead and since she did not propagate any hate or controversial remarks, there was incidentally no harm done. The same way, I think it is all right for athletes like Phelps and others to smoke pot. That is not doping; in fact, if you are on pot and still manage to make it to the finish line, you simply ought to be awarded a medal for that feat.

Finally, yes, the competitive edge may be sharpened, and it often comes down to fractions of seconds. A minor mistake may cause athletes lose a medal, while doing things consistently well and right leads to creating the stuff that legends are made of, i.e. Phelps and “Lightning” Bolt. And for about two weeks one is entertained and gets to see athletes give their best (with the exception of certain badminton teams, of course).

And in closing, just a final comment on the closing ceremony. I found it to be not perfect, but pretty good. It reminded me how many great artists Britain has. Many I had either erroneously taken for Americans, such as Fatboy Slim, and others I had somehow forgotten they were Brits, such as Take That and Queen.

In these moments, one realizes also how much one misses certain artists. Although spiritually and somewhat visually present, John Lennon and Freddie Mercury have left gaping holes in our communal psyche, no matter where you are from. Shine on these crazy diamonds!

And it was strangely satisfying to see the Spice Girls perform with their typical youthful charm. They are better together than on their own, a case of the sums of the parts not being better than the whole, somewhat similar (although artistically inferior) to the Beatles.

So goes the countdown, love it or hate it, for the next one, four years from now, a 3000 year-old tradition that has seen major changes and upheavals along its long and eventful history.


Vincent said...

I didn't enjoy the closing ceremony as much as the opening one; because I don't like most of the music they played. But that's just a matter of taste. I applauded it for the energy, creativity and intentions.

From the day the London Olympic Games were announced in July 2005, I was against; would have felt happier if Paris had taken on the burden.

Before they started, I was even more against: all the security, all the risk of terrorists attack.

In the event like most other Britons, I was comprehensively charmed and delighted.

These matters of unity, pride and nationalism are very complex in these British Isles. There are the English, the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish. Anything like this which helps unite us is welcome. Northern and Southern Ireland have been politically divided for almost the last hundred years, the wounds have not entirely healed. Scotland now wants a referendum on independence. All these things were affected by the Games - positively, I'm sure.

And then these things - unity, pride and nationalism - must be considered in relation to the waves of immigration especially in the last 60 years from the Commonwealth. Integration is not complete. Colour prejudice is hardly an issue these days. Caribbean and African immigrants eagerly become British, but where I live, Pakistani immigrants and to a great extent their descendants live lives separated from British culture by language, religion, and (no doubt) the rankling of historic prejudice against them. In my own small street, which has a largish mosque, I see hardly any signs of integration. the great-grandchildren of the original immigrants still don't learn any English till they're sent to school, in many cases, and their mothers were brought fresh from Pakistan after an arranged marriage. And they paid no attention to the Olympics.

Arashmania said...

Thank you, Vincent, for your insight from the inside. My own reflections were mostly based on our own experience of Vancouver 2010, which had united Canadians, especially as a result of the well-deserved (sorry my American friends!) gold medal win for hockey!

I am amazed about the abstract idea of a country such as Great Britain, a conglomeration of different nations, identities, cultures, and I thought that overall, in agreement with you, the Games did manage to foster a sense of national unity across the board. To be different and the same should be our paradoxical philosophy on life in general.

As to musical taste, I did not enjoy all of it, though I did think that Jessie J, to me an unknown due to my lack of interest in current music, looked rather astonishing. But what about the Beatles and especially The Who? Not a fan?

Vincent said...

No, I'm bored by the Beatles and the Who. Actually I do like Jessie J but had never seen her before, just heard a couple of songs and an interview on the radio. And I do like Muse - have three of their albums. but their first one was the best: Origin of Symmetry.

Arashmania said...

Thanks, Super Bowl 2013, I certainly appreciate your comment too!