It has been great to have the Olympics back again. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the opening of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the competition was pushed back to this year, and the opening ceremonies were finally able to be held on July 23. Since then, viewers across the world have been able to witness many incredible performances and history- making achievements. This includes Minnesota’s very own Suni Lee, becoming the first Hmong American Olympian and winning a gold medal. The past few weeks have reminded me of all the great things about the Olympics, and its importance in the future for our country and the world.
Inspired by its ancient beginnings and revival starting with the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, the Olympics have served as a place for athletes the world over to showcase their skills and promote global unity through the common arena of sports. Regardless of language, culture or religion, sports and physical feats have common rules and appeal that defies borders and barriers to communication. Like with the ancient Greeks, national pride and determination can be contested on a sports field rather than a battlefield.
As our world and even our country becomes increasingly divided among ideological fault lines, it’s encouraging to see how the Olympics are still serving their purpose as a uniting force –something we can all watch in awe at the skills of the athletes and the stunning talent that comes from all over the world to compete in the games in so many different sports. The inclusion of the Paralympic Games also shows an incredible commitment to including and championing every person in the world.
The Games also serve as a way to share the host nation’s culture and history with the world. I always enjoy watching the opening ceremonies to see the showcase of different aspects of the host nation and the creativity of the performances. It can be easy to see other countries as being exotic or confusing, but these opening ceremonies and coverage throughout the Games can help overcome cultural differences and show our common humanity. It’s a way to break down the ignorance and hostility that is unfairly applied to people of different cultures and religions in interactions even in our own local area.
With so many great benefits of the Games, it can be hard to hear of increasing problems with the Olympics and increasing calls for reform in the way the Games are organized and hosted. Local organizations, especially in democratic countries, often decry how the Games demand billions of dollars and the construction of new venues, when these resources could have gone toward addressing local issues. Authoritarian states use these investments as a way to promote themselves positively to the world and distract from their atrocities. These concerns are important and something the Games need to address moving forward in order to ensure they stay on their original mission.
To focus on the roots of the Games, we can recognize that fancy stadiums and billions spent aren’t what makes the Olympics great. It’s the idea of the noble competition between athletes and the coming together of the world to root for their teams and be wowed by feats that we’d think are impossible. I hope in the future, the International Olympic Committee considers host cities not just for the money they can spend, but the welcoming environment and opportunities for longterm cultural and international investments that can benefit communities for years to come.
So, as we enjoy the Olympics once again this year, let’s remember the spirit of the Games. Let’s take the opportunity not only to marvel at the achievements of athletes, but also the amazing diversity of our world and the connections and common understanding we can build for the future.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.