Social Issues Intervene in the Olympics

sochi_2014-by Lilla Gabrieli- The Winter Olympics in Sochi should be focused on the 2,500 athletes who have been training for the Olympics their entire lives, or the record high 1,300 metals that will be awarded, or even the twelve new sporting events that will be making their Olympic debut. Instead, most people have been busy talking about Russia’s new anti-gay law, the $51 billion dollar price tag on the Olympics, and the pressing security threat facing Russia. So, with the 22nd Winter Olympics only a few days away, it seems only appropriate to raise the question: what are the Olympics truly about?

For the ancient Greeks, the Olympics were of both athletic and religious importance. Held every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia, the festival celebrated both athletic talent and the ancient Greek Gods. However, the Olympics gradually lost its importance as the Greeks lost their power and influence to the Romans. In fact, the Olympics would not revive until 1896, when Athens hosted 14 nations and 241 athletes during the first ever summer Olympic Games. However, the revival of the Olympics brought many changes to this time-honored tradition.

For host countries, the Olympics became a chance to showcase their nation to the watching world, to boost national pride within the country, and to maybe even monetarily profit through increased tourism. The Olympics have also served as part of a political agenda for some nations. Take the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland, who boycotted the 1956 Melbourne Olympics because of the suppression of the Hungarian uprising, or when the opponents of the Cold War boycotted each other’s Games in 1980 and 1984. It may be surprising to learn that only four countries —Australia, France, Great Britain, and Switzerland—have been represented at every single Olympic Games since 1896. For companies, the Olympics offers a platform off of which they might gain exposure or market their brand. Sirena Khana ’16, who mainly watches the Summer Olympics Games, says that the companies have “made it a commercial business, rather than about sports.” The Olympics have also become a way for political or religious groups to make a statement or send a message to the international community. We can even see this at the Sochi Olympics, where members of the LGBTQ community have begun to publicly protest the games in an effort to send the message that they will not stand for intolerance. While their protests have mainly remained peaceful, that is simply not true of other groups. Take the 1972 Games, when a terrorist group, Black September, took eleven athletes on the Israeli Olympic team hostage and eventually killed two of them.

So what are the Olympics truly about? At its core, the Olympics are simply a celebration of our athletic talents, but do all these other interests of countries and companies alike detract from the main point of the Olympics? Still, some students remain hopeful that despite the other interests at play, the Sochi Olympics will be remain focused on athletics. Abigail Simon ‘16 says “Even though I’ve definitely heard about these other issues going on at the Sochi Olympics, I’m still excited to watch the athletes compete!” While others remain less hopeful than Simon, it seems that only time will make clear what the Sochi Olympics are actually about.

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