Friday, October 2, 2009

Why The Olympics Matters

We have been treated to the spectacle of the President of the United States being criticized for travelling to Copenhagen to support the bid of Chicago as the site of the 2016 Olympics at the meeting of the International Olympic Committee. What abysmal ignorance on the part of the nattering nabobs of negativity.

We will leave out of the discussion the reality that the President of the United States is never out of touch or that the communications systems of Air Force 1 are equal to those of the White House. We can ignore the fact that the President travels with a full support staff and has an office aboard Air Force 1 that is as well equipped as the Oval Office in the White House. To say that the President is ignoring the people's business when travelling is like saying that he is ignoring the people's business when in a meeting in the White House - it is a reflection of ignorance, and a lack of understanding of the instant nature of modern communications connectivity.

The real issue is the assault on the Olympics that this criticism reflects. Why do the Olympics matter? Let me count the ways:

(1) the International Olympic Committee, and with it the Olympic movement in each nation, is one of the few international governing organizations that is recognized and participated in by virtually every nation on the globe. Although it focuses only on one aspect of world culture, sport, the Olympic movement in its own way is as influential as any international body. The International Olympic Committee is an international diplomatic forum as important as any other.

(2) host nations receive free world-wide positive publicity for the period of the runup to the games and the games themselves. The example of the Beijing games is a clear example - we were treated to a picture of a modern, efficient, and architecturally forward thinking China. How can publicity like this be anything but a good thing for the United States?

(3) the Olympics were conceived as a way to promote World peace and friendly relationships between nations and peoples. The games still remain one of the few times when people from all over the World meet on a level playing field and build friendship and understanding. Even if their nations are not friends, individual athletes connect as people. And for a few days the world is inspired by the performance of its athletic elite.

(4) the Olympic games represent a huge economic engine. Make money or lose money, money flows through the economy and with it jobs and work. Tourism explodes for the period of the games. Construction explodes before the games. Getting the games is a billion plus dollar enterprise for the host.

(5) the Olympics represent the showcase of what fitness means. In a world where fitness in general is declining and obseity is growing, the Olympics are a positive message about the importance of sport to living a full and active life. Although youth dominates many sports, there are success stories for the middle aged that prove we can achieve more with our bodies than we think. This is important to our future as a species in a world where physical work is becoming less important.

(6) and for us as fencers, the Olympics are a showcase for our sport. We may not get the air time that we want, and the incredible accomplishment of our athletes in Beijing may not have gotten the attention it deserved (the renaissance of American fencing is 2008 against unbelivable odds is a story far more compelling than one swimmer winning multiple golds). But people saw fencing. And that helps. The same is true of many other smaller sports that offer opportunities for people to participate, compete, and excel.

Other nations understand these realities. England sent their Prime Minister to the meeting at which the site of the 2012 games was decided, and Tony Blair brought home the games to London. This year every other nation sent their chief executive to the October meeting to present the case for their bid to host. It is worth asking why those criticizing the President want the United States not to win the Games. There is no good answer to that question.

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