The Olympic Games just ended in Rio De Janeiro. I always love the Olympics, the two-week spectacle of the best physical specimens of humanity doing things with their bodies I can only imagine. It’s inspiring to watch their determination, their grit, their courage, to envision the years of training that go into a single effort at a two-minute event. It’s amazing to watch them smash records, win medals, represent their countries with honor (and occasionally otherwise). It always gives me pause to think that even those who don’t win medals–those we don’t often think about because they didn’t make their names among the highest elites–are still among the fastest, strongest, most agile athletes on the planet.
There’s another reason I like the Olympics, this one about the things that don’t happen. For two weeks, people from all over the world come together in a single city, and nobody dies. War doesn’t break out. People of all religions and beliefs come together, and no one riots.
Why does it happen?
It could be because security around the events is so tight nobody has the opportunity to cause trouble. But there are plenty of other international events, like summit meetings, where high security doesn’t prevent trouble.
It could be that the athletes’ governments issue stern warnings that disruptive behavior will not be tolerated. But athletes don’t always let the consequences stop them from communicating a message they think is important to the world–if hurting each other was important to them, they would find a way.
It could be that the athletes are drawn, somehow, from a better class than the rest of us, that they are a type of people who don’t feel the need to behave destructively. But the ongoing Ryan Lochte saga indicates otherwise.
It’s certainly true that Olympic athletes have avenues other than violence to resolve their conflicts–it’s the point of the Games. I’m old enough to remember the rivalries between the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the Games of the 80s. They added a degree of tension and excitement, but I don’t remember ever fearing that the teams would attack each other.
It’s also true that Olympic athletes, having reached the pinnacle of their respective sports, may not feel the need to hurt others to empower themselves.
But there may be a simpler explanation. It may be that for two weeks in Rio, hundreds of young people came together from all over the world and saw more alike in each other than different. It may be that, instead of flags competing against flags, Rio was people competing against people. It may be that, instead of seeing Muslims and Christians and Buddhists and Jews and blacks and whites and Asians and Hispanics, the athletes saw other athletes lined up to compete with them. It could be the word they had a different meaning in Rio than it does for most of us most days.
If we can do it in Rio, why can’t we do it elsewhere? Why can’t we do it everywhere?