The honor of the Olympics

  • February 4, 2010
{mosimage}The Olympic Games can be too political, too commercial and too often a platform for cheaters. Yes, they are flawed, and in that they resemble God’s children — damaged but worthwhile, imperfect but noble, scarred but wonderful.

The Winter Games open in Vancouver on Feb. 12 and we hope Canadians slow down to absorb and enjoy this 16-day spectacle because, despite the warts, there is much to celebrate.

Naysayers — and they abound — believe it is wrong to bring the Olympics to Canada when there is urgent need to invest in education, health care, poverty eradication and a long list of other social and cultural programs. The operational and facility cost for the Games is well above $2 billion, and that much again was probably spent on long-term infrastructure projects that were kick-started when Vancouver got the Olympic nod. The exact price tag won’t be known until months after the closing ceremonies.

Against the huge cost, proponents argue that the Olympics mean $4 billion in economic activity for British Columbia. At a time of global economic pain, the Conference Board of Canada has forecast that, due to Olympic spending, B.C. will have Canada’s fastest growing economy in 2010, and that means jobs for many.

But enough numbers. Having dollar signs pinging your brain is the surest way to ruin what should be an experience that, if you ignore the cynics and look not too hard, represents mankind’s oldest and purest values. In ancient Greece, warring tribes declared a sacred truce for the duration of the Games. So let the same hold true between the conflicting factions in Vancouver.

The modern Olympics were born in 1896 through the efforts of a French idealist, Pierre de Coubertin, who believed an international sporting event could promote peace by fostering brotherhood across cultures, races and religions. Raised in a Catholic home, de Coubertin received a Jesuit education and selected an Olympic motto —  Faster, Higher, Stronger — from a phrase coined by a Dominican priest.  Pope Pius X was an early supporter of de Coubertin’s Olympic idealism, and today the church-based values promoted more than a century ago by the French aristocrat still enlighten the Olympics.

At their best, the Olympics represent respect, fraternity, excellence, dignity and honesty while standing firm against discrimination of every type. Although not always apparent, the Olympic movement opposes overt commercialism and politicization and supports charitable and environmental causes.

But from a spectator’s perspective, perhaps the most endearing aspect of de Coubertin’s legacy is that, as much as victory, the Olympics honour the inherent goodness of an honest struggle to improve, to be the best one can. In one form or another we all face that struggle, in our homes, at work and also in our Christian lives.

It’s that struggle that makes the Olympics captivating. We celebrate the winners, of course, and there’s no harm in that. But we take heart from the struggle. That’s what the Olympics, imperfect as they are, truly represent.

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