I have really been enjoying the Olympics. We’ve been logging on to European networks which is very different than the standard U.S. (aka NBC) coverage. We’ve seen sports never covered on U.S. stations, whole events, virtually no commentary, and no commercials! It’s been different and very refreshing. It’s given me a renewed interest in the Olympics, which access in the U.S. has otherwise been co-opted and degraded into a corporate media feeding frenzy. (I know that’s harsh and I’ll say no more on the matter).
Past United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said it best:
The Olympic Games display the very best of our common humanity. Coming together across virtually every line of race, ethnicity, language, religion, gender and national identity, the athletes — on their own or as members of a team — will scale new heights, set new records and give the world a lesson in international understanding. The Games are a true celebration of humanity.
Because we watched the Opening Ceremonies on a European network, we saw the entire almost 3-hour program, start to finish, with no interruptions. Not only did we see ALL of Danny Boyle’s masterful program, but we saw ALL of the teams walk in. Watching the complete coverage of the Opening Ceremonies got me thinking about a few of the inclusive ideals of the Olympics.
Sometimes inclusive ideals are at the forefront, as in the Saudi Arabian woman who competed in Judo. This is the first Olympics where every country sent women to compete. It is the first time Saudi Arabia has sent women at all. Sixteen year-old Wojdan Shaherkani was invited by the IOC to compete as a symbolic gesture. Much madness was made about her head covering when the real story was about her being there and competing at all! She (and her father, from everything I’ve read) will be forever changed by that one experience and she will share that experience with other women just like her. Now that she’s been a part of something so extraordinary for any woman in her culture, something deep inside her has been sparked.
Some inclusive ideals are couched as symbolic gestures, like the Torch relay, have murk and myth wrapped together. The 2012 organizers incorporated inclusive ideals when they set and publicized a special Torch relay route that covered all of Great Britain during the 70 days preceding the Olympics. The route was designed that 95-percent of the population would be within 1-hour of the route. Just the British route alone included 8,000 torchbearers! The great effort to include even remote areas in the British Torch relay was rewarded with over 10 million people turning out all along the Torch route.
Inclusive ideals are taken seriously by the Olympic committee. When an athlete shows that they are not upholding the Olympic Values – excellence, respect, and friendship – there are consequences. Racist remarks and non-competitive behavior have resulted in a couple of athletes being sent home or teams not allowed to continue competition.
Lighting the Olympic flame is a great honor. Much speculation went on prior to the Opening Ceremonies as to who would ultimately have that honor. By breaking with what’s been done in the past and including several young athletes to all light the flame, solidified this Olympic’s theme, inspire a generation. When you hear the inspirational stories of any of the athletes, almost all contain the dream to become an Olympic athlete. Including those young athletes who are still discovering and developing their talent in the lighting of the Olympic flame inspires something in all of us.
The hymn Jerusalem is the unofficial anthem of Great Britain. It’s played at many sports events and was used throughout the Opening Ceremonies. The words to the hymn are from a poem by William Blake, but the idea of a new Jerusalem is found in both the Old and New Testaments. Boyle’s program notes include this:
We hope… that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication.
When so much in our world is negative and destructive and scary, the Olympics offer seventeen days when we come together on the world athletic field. Sports is all about participation, inclusion, and a sense of belonging. The Olympics give us events and symbols designed to bring us together. I’m reminded that inclusive ideals are central to who God is and what God is all about. The intimate story of an inclusive God who will do anything necessary to bridge a relationship with humanity is told from the opening verses of Genesis to the closing verses of Revelation.
William Blake, the author of the poem used in the hymn Jerusalem, added the following verse beneath the poem at the end:
Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets (Numbers 11:29).
The hymn, Jerusalem, was featured in an earlier post, Listening to Your Life.