“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” ~ Wilma Rudolph
With all of the tragedy and political theater that has dominated the news cycle lately the 2012 Summer Olympics are a breath of fresh air. An international sports event that promotes healthy competition among the many nations of the world seems like just the medicine for the volatile division found both between and within most major countries on the planet. A time to put aside whatever conflicts exist in the name of the peace and cooperation the Olympic Games has come to symbolize. However, there is a duality to the Games that should not be ignored when assessing their benefits to the world.
While the Games exemplify the very best of fitness and athletic ability they are plagued by the influence of sponsors not quite in line with this message. Take the official soda of the Olympic Games, Coca-Cola. First of all, why do we have an official soda of an event that requires its participants to practice meticulous healthy habits? Nothing about soda promotes good health. In fact, it could and should be argued the consumption of soda severely hampers one’s ability to realize their full athletic potential. Logically, it would make more sense to do away with the concept of any sponsor selling products that are detrimental to one’s well-being. However, such a move is unlikely as the money sponsorships provide are vital to the continued survival of the Olympic Games as we know them today.
Furthermore, the spectacle we have come to expect from these games requires an immense amount of resources from the cities hosting them. While the prestige and attention these games bring to the city can not be ignored, they do not come without their complications. Like any grand event, an undertaking of this nature requires huge investments in infrastructure. From the facilities needed to hold the various contests to the hospitality businesses needed to receive the huge influx of participants, spectators, and other visitors drawn to the city for the games a great deal of new buildings and transportation must be created. This cost billions of dollars that may or may not be made up by the increased tourist dollars flowing into the city. A gamble that could have dire consequences for the municipal budgets of those choosing to take on such a momentous challenge.
On a larger scale the cooperation these games are supposed to promote can actually create further divides amongst the citizenry of the competing countries. This can be seen by the obsessive focus by the media on the medal counts. When for example you have two world powers like the United States and China competing for the highest total, it becomes less about the impressive sportsman-like competition of the athletes involved and more about beating a faceless country. These can exploit fears and perpetuate negative perceptions of one another that is detrimental to effective diplomacy and foreign policy on an international stage. Thus, it is vital the camaraderie of those participating in these contests be emphasized at least as prominently as the medal tallies.
Even though Olympic Games are an important part of promoting a united and peaceful world, it is important we recognize the effects of money and political divisions on these games, lest we fall further from the spirit this competition exemplifies. Finding a path acknowledging, that perhaps some of the sponsors of the games are not in line with a healthy lifestyle and should not be promoted as something on par with Olympic stature. Making sure any investment by the host city is carefully evaluated and safety measures are put in place to prevent drastic results in the years following. Lastly, we must portray these competitions not as simply a means to declare a superior country but as a competition meant to recognize and reward the super human accomplishments of its participants. Only then will the Olympic Games completely align with the values and ideals we’ve come to expect.