"In the name of all the competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams." --The Olympic Oath
To watch the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro or not to watch?
For the next two weeks, for millions of folks around the world: that is the question. I’ve got friends who are Olympic junkies. If able, they’d consume all 6,755 hours of TV coverage from the 5th to the 21st. They can’t get enough. Me? Not so much. I’ll graze the offerings. I’m an Olympics fan, not fanatic.
Partly because there are some things about the TV coverage that drive me crazy. Like….
1) Commercials, especially for items like Coca-Cola or McDonalds, food you’d never eat as a world class athlete. Big Macs and marathons just don’t mix.
2) “Inspirational” life story segments about the athletes. Enough with the tear jerking “and then she overcame….” Just get to the game—PLEASE!
3) Hyper-national flag waving: for me the most important flag at the Olympics is the Olympic flag. It always flies above every other national flag.
4) Commentators who talk over the competition. SSSSSHHHH….I’m watching here!
5) The lack of full coverage for the odd, archaic and weird sports we only get to see at the Olympics. Maybe I want to watch the shot put, the javelin throw, and badminton!
But even with all those annoyances, there is still one overarching reason why I will still watch the Olympics with interest. Why the Olympics, at their best, showcase the noblest aspects of the human spirit. Why the Olympics have been around for so, so long: the first games were held in ancient Greece in 776 B.C., nearly 2,800 years ago. Why in a time of global turmoil and upheaval, the Olympics represent a hope that maybe, just maybe, humanity can get along, live in peace.
I watch the Olympics because I want to believe, I need to believe, that they occur on a “level playing field”. This is the idea that between the lines on the field, it is always about fair play. FAIR. Folks win medals, or lose out, because of their natural and trained athletic ability and why? Because they best their opponent, not by bending or breaking the rules, but by following the rules which equally apply to every one. No exceptions.
A level playing field. No drugs. No doping. No cheating. No biased judges or home field advantage. Just pure competition and pure athleticism.
A level playing field.
The best sports—amateur, professional, pick up--always involve a covenant of sorts, an agreement. We who watch the game trust in the truth of the sport. Those who play the game agree to do so by the rules. Without this integrity, the relationship between the fans and the players, the athletes in the stadium and the folks in the stands cheering away: it always breaks.
These games have already been visited by the taint of cheating. The Russian contingent that marched into the stadium for the opening ceremony was down by more than 100 athletes, including the entire track and field team. Their government conspired with athletes to make sure the Russians won in past international competitions, through tainted drug tests and other acts of subterfuge. To be fair, athletes from many other nations will miss Rio too, because they cheated as well.
But the overwhelming number of Olympic athletes in Rio? Professional athletes? Amateur athletes? I still believe that they play for the “the love of” the game, which is what amateur means. “For the the love of.” To play for the sheer joy of pushing your body to the limits. To play and put one’s self up against the best. To play—not for money or fame or power—but to play, just to play. And always to do so with integrity and honor and honesty. Because then in the Olympics, when some Davidic athlete from a tiny country defeats some Samsonite athlete from a superpower, we cheer even louder because we trust that this clash happened on a level playing field.
Higher. Faster. Stronger. The Olympic motto. To this I’d add, “and always on a level playing field.”