As I write this article, the world’s eyes are on London for what promises to be a sizzling summer of super sports! Alliteration aside (poor puns notwithstanding) the serious business of sporting excellence is about to capture a global audience once again. The host country’s trepidations are matched in part by the many jitters and last minute range of nightmares from security, to the trimming of the opening ceremony, to the never ending worry about the weather on the big occasion. The list of worries increase in direct proportion to the countdown clock’s fast paced ticks, as London 2012 prepares to greet the world.
The last surviving ‘world’ event (there are other sporting events, but the Olympics remain unrivalled in terms of scope, inclusion, heritage, participation, audience) is a joy to behold for its many great achievments, and a logistical nightmare for the organisers worldwide. The very thought of organising a single schedule of sport causes grief for broadcasters. Imagine the planning required for a whole host of sporting events, all within a fortnight’s space. Preparation rightfully takes months, and sometimes years before getting it right on the night.
Behind the chaotic mess, the turmoil, the heartache, the arguments and exhaustion lies a very real chance to hunt that most elusive of things – a chance to excel at your sport, a gold medal, admiration and recognition by the world. Swelling national pride, and crushing national humiliation decided with seconds to spare.
Individual olympians may have their personal journey and ambitions to nurture, but national team managers and co-ordinators are frantic with careful planning to ensure a maximum haul of that coveted metal: gold. The medals tally is the world’s joint celebration of its greatest sportspersons – swift, graceful, agile, masterful – adjectives fall short as each event presents us with the very best. One pauses to wonder how did a fragmented world with simmering hostilities settle down to a civilised show of strength and ability?
Arguments are limited to whether or not the referee was biased, and if the judges deducted marks too harshly. There are no gunshots, no war wounded, no casualties. On the unfortunate occasions where violence has reached the Olympics, the world has boldly stood together and healed its wounds, defiantly continuing with this celebration of sport and friendship. Bitter conflicts and generations of warring neighbours compete in relative harmony. Sworn enemies shake hands and congratulate each other’s efforts. Sadly there are still some exceptions where atheletes withdraw, or do not contest rivals – but one hopes these remain exceptions and do not become the norm. The Olympics are not entirely utopian, but they remain our very best step towards complete harmony, as we grudgingly try and let go of resentments and embrace healthy competition.
We live in difficult times. It is no longer our own little piece of Eden that we worry about, but the concerns of the world weigh us down collectively. Competitors in different parts of the world struggle with the global recession. We are one fragile existence, a planet jousting the dragon of climate change – trying to tackle the decay and renewing our planetary shelf-life. There is much to worry us, and few causes for celebration. I am not even casting a glance at the evils of the world – terrorism, poverty, disease, corruption – and many more demons that haunt us.
Given the bleak prospects of the human race, I find it astonishing that we can still manage to come together in peace and harmony. People of every race, colour, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical prowess as well as disability – all coming together for a brief period of time to celebrate that one instinctive need – to compete, to succeed. Yes, the organisers and the sports persons are to be applauded for their efforts and achievments – but the world as a community should pat itself for managing to retain one avenue of peaceful collaboration among the many murky paths of hatred.
Five interlinked rings representing five continents and a diversity of human life and achievment – may the spirit of the games prevail long after the glittering gold has been won and forgotten.