The Spirit of the Games: Two Failures of Olympic Proportions at the 2012 Games

The Spirit of the Games: Two Failures of Olympic Proportions at the 2012 Games

Ever since I saw the Sydney Opera House lit up on my mother’s analog TV in 2000, and saw the Olympic rings splashed everywhere, I’ve spent the four years between the games, waiting in fidgety anticipation for the summer when it’d all happen again. From the showboating of the opening and closing ceremonies, to the passion, dedication and pure athleticism displayed throughout the games themselves, I was riveted to the TV for as many events as possible.

A a nine year old island girl whose geography lessons had yet to reveal how many countries there were in the world, what amazed me most was the parade of the participating nations. So many flags waved all in one place. I am still awed now, because the Olympic Games bring together nations of all economic standing and languages, races and cultures, religions and government. It creates a unity that is rarely produced by any other medium. No matter how different the people, the athletes, and the proud supporters back home, we’re all cheering about the same thing.

That’s the spirit of the games. It isn’t political, it’s human. Some seem to recognize this better than others. In the days leading up to the opening ceremony, two events occurred that made that clear – one boiled my blood, the other was bittersweet.

I. Three Hours of Noise, No Moment of Silence.

Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided not to honour 11 Israeli Olympic athletes slain by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Games in 1972 with a moment of silence during the opening ceremonies. Rogge’s explanations included hesitance to politicize the games, and inappropriate timing. But what better timing than the 40th anniversary of the event. A moment of silence was observed in a private ceremony in the Olympic Village and Rogge will also be attending a ceremony on August 6th. But he and the rest of the IOC refused to request silence during the opening ceremonies.

This decision was, as Bob Costas, NBC commentator noted, “insensitive.” It ignored the hurt and heartache of the families of those slain men. “They were not accidental tourists. They came with dreams and came home in coffins,” said the wife of murdered Israeli fencer Andrei Spitzer. The decision to not honour them while the world watched made the reply clear: “No, your husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles and friends were not significant enough for us to all shut up for one minute and respect that they died when they should have been celebrating.”

It would not have ruined the 3 hour show about Britain’s amazing history to silence the crowd for 60 seconds to remember lost lives. It would not have been a political act. It would not have caused an uprising. It would have been an act of humanity.

II. Watch Your Words. The World Watches.

If Aphrodite had a great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter, she would probably look like Voula Papchristou. She’s beautiful, athletic and an Olympian, or at least she was until she hit send on the tweet that ruined it all.

"With so many Africans in Greece... At least the West Nile mosquitoes …will eat homemade food!!!"

Pick up your jaw off the floor while I explain a little. This tweet was posted to Papchristou’s account last Sunday and the Twitterverse flipped out. Rightfully so. Many accused her of racism and mentioned her sponsors asking them if they really wanted to back her after she said something so vile. Papchristou laughed off the criticism until she realized that she might actually be in trouble.

"I apologize if I inadvertently offended people! I have no mingling with politics!!! I am only an athlete!!”

She failed on two points. Firstly, you are no longer “only an athlete” when you wear your country’s colours on the world stage to represent an entire people. You are an ambassador of sorts. Posting racist jokes on a public twitter account does not make for very good representation. Secondly, it wasn’t about politics, it was about simple human decency and there was nothing decent about what was said.

I was both surprised and happy to see that the decision to expel Papchristou from the Games was not made by the IOC but by her own countrymen. The Hellenic Olympic Committee stated that she was “placed outside the Olympic team for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement.”

The head of Greece’s Olympic commission made it clear that they weren’t just at the Olympics to get medals but to show their character.  As much as Papchristou apologized, she had already failed to display good character and Olympic spirit. Her apology came a little too late, and seemed motivated more by the consequence of her actions, rather than a true understanding of how she was wrong.

It’s such a pity that she trained so long for the moment when she would stand at the top of the runway, relax her muscles, focus her mind and sprint for the pit before launching herself through the air into the sand. But there are always consequences for the thing we do and say. The consequences were harsh, but so was what she said. 

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