Sporty Spice: Olympics return to basics

September 12, 2013

While the Olympics have always been a spectacle, the ancient tradition seems to have attained a new level of media coverage over the last few years. The past few weeks especially have been filled with coverage about Sochi, Usain Bolt, and Tokyo.  It seems as if there is a new-found obsession with the Olympics as a floor for intercultural dialogue.

While this is the goal at the very heart of the Olympic mission, it wasn’t until recently that the Olympics have been utilized as a forum for important discussions regarding issues such as human rights. (Prior to the LGBT issues in Sochi, the last time the Olympic Committee made any sort of announcement was regarding apartheid in South Africa.) The reemergence of the Olympics as a platform for global dialogue marks a modern trek to the roots of the Olympics.

So what does this “return to roots” mean? Well, let’s start with wrestling. Last week the International Olympic Committee voted to reinstate the sport after it had been eliminated from the agenda in early 2013. Wrestling has been a part of the Olympics since its conception 3000 years ago. But it wouldn’t have been scrapped in the first place had there not been flaws with the state of the sport.

By temporarily eliminating wrestling from the Olympic games, the IOC forced the sport’s organization to reform, installing new classes for women and creating a more accessible platform for their own marketing. The Olympics, by their commitment to the original tenets of fair competition, pushed for the betterment of wrestling. In fact, with this return to basics, wrestling was forced to modernize itself, a move which garnered more traction for both the Olympics and the sport—I’d call that a win-win.

Moving on to Sochi. I’ll keep this brief. The IOC upheld its tenets of the spirit of the games with its strong response to Russia’s anti-gay laws. Their communication with the Russian government and the inclusive nature of the statement was a reassuring measure that handled a difficult situation with grace and nuance. Any stronger statement would have isolated Russia, whereas anything less would have been considered unacceptable by the global community. Yet again, the line between modern concerns and traditional behavior was toed delicately.

The decision of the Olympic Committee to host the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo was also a contentious matter. Personally I was rooting for Istanbul (rowing in the Bosphorus and stadiums across continents, duh) and the majority of my house had their fingers-crossed for Madrid.

Upon further reflection of what seemed a tired choice, I came to the conclusion that the Olympic committee made the correct decision. While I would argue that Istanbul best balances modern and ancient tradition, Tokyo, an eastern city with strong roots in tradition offers a safe and stable location which will help to foster the upward swing of the Olympics. After Beijing and London’s impressive shows, a city like Tokyo is uniquely prepared to host an equally spectacular and successful spectacle.

Last summer, one of my coworkers and I would secretly stream Olympic events mid-day. Now, we were both sports fans, but that’s not to say that we didn’t get caught up in the politics and culture of it. The Olympics have become pop-culture, but in the most positive way possible. Yes, Ryan Lochte has an inane E! network show, but we now have household names and childhood heroes like Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglass.

Whereas past involvement was limited to “Go USA,” the Olympics have rebranded themselves and have become more accessible. We can even communicate with our favorite athletes through Twitter and other social media platforms. These idols who used to be mere figures on the T.V. or the radio waves have become real, interactive heroes. Modern technology has brought the traditional stars of the games to phone screens across the nation—touching individuals with the Olympic and the American spirit.

At the end of the day, the Olympics have the unique ability of combining the spirit of competition with international dialogue.Nations can come together while they become more unified themselves behind the jerseys and uniforms of their athletes. The IOC is allowing the renaissance of the Olympics by walking the fine line between modernity and tradition. And lucky us, we get to watch along and cheer for the oh so modern sport of sliding stones across the ice, all in the name of the red, white, and blue.

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