Over the past 100 years of the Olympics, war, fear and politics have had just as much a play in the games as the athletes themselves. We have yet to see any exception for the upcoming games in Athens.
The difference between the past and today’s fears is that there is not an individual nation that is blanketed as an “evil” presence, but rather an entire culture.
Historians have translated ancient inscriptions on Olympic grounds in Greece that demand safe passage and the lying down of all arms during the games. The founder of the contemporary Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, sought the goal of “[placing] sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society.”
Contrary to his goals, Coubertin’s games have been a platform for nationalistic tyranny, from Hitler to Stalin, as well as terrorism when in 1972, 11 Israeli wrestlers and officials were executed by Palestinian terrorists.
To counteract these abuses against the Olympic dream there have been prolific athletes like Jesse Owens in 1936, who literally put his life at risk by competing at Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Owens also broke the color barrier for international competition.
Yet, when we look at today’s Olympic-caliber athletes; “heroic” is one of the last words I think of, especially in the United States. At the dawn of this year’s Olympic cycle many millionaire professional athletes - including Serena and Venus Williams - claimed that they were not going to compete in the Olympics because they fear they would be targeted in a terrorist attack. The Williams sisters have since recanted their statement and will compete this summer.
First of all, professional athletes do not have any place in the Olympics. There is no way you can look at the U.S. Basketball dream teams and claim that it is a fair competition with other nations; which in some cases have no structured professional leagues at all. More so, the will of major professional athletes, who want to improve their name recognition by getting some free press, is not the same as amateur athletes who; for the most part; believe in Coubertin’s dream.
Second, fear only hurts diplomacy. The purpose of the games and international competition in general is to mend current and past wounds from international conflict. We cannot expect to mend anything when either side opts out of competitions.
AU has a place in the argument when Iran put the brakes on a pre-Olympic wrestling dual meet against the U.S. national team that AU was to host. Iran is viewed as one of the United States’ biggest enemies in the war on terrorism, and Iran views us as an unjust occupier in Iraq and sympathizers with Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Unable to put these differences aside, Iran backed out of the event to protest the U.S. military fighting in the holy sites of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq. The United States also had doubts about hosting the event because of its terrorism stance.
Such an instance of protecting athletes from each other only extends problems between nations and people. This will lead to further problems where diplomatic means are avoided.
So, should the Williams sisters be afraid in Greece? Yes, but they and the other athletes joining them must take this opportunity with honor and pride, not with fear.
The athletes should fear and rebel against the notion of altering or stopping the games to protect them, for that would only dishonor those who are currently fighting and dying to end terrorism. They fight to allow children to have the same human rights all over the world, to enjoy all arts of life, including sports. To seclude sport between nations only adds to the hypocrisy of fighting and any nation’s sense of freedom.
If a tragic circumstance occurs in Athens, I can only pray that no one is hurt and that it does not lead to any further suppression of any sport or freedom, because that would put our predecessors and heroes to shame.