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Last Updated: 07/27/2012
True Olympism
Mario Nishihara

The Summer Olympics are perhaps the greatest sporting spectacle of modern times, and as such, they illustrate both the best and the worst of what sport has become: greed and commercialization as well as personal inspiration and an affirmation of the importance of play. Mario Nishihara reflects on the 2008 games in Beijing and, without ignoring the negative points, explains why she believes we should take a positive approach to the London games.

Ichiro traded to the Yankees and all the other players in the NBA ‘took their talents to South Beach’ – to win. It’s all about the money, they say. Money, greed, marketing – capitalism – has most definitely clouded-over the many bright sides, if not all the bright sides, of sports. It becomes more and more obvious as we get closer to the Summer Olympics, once again.

I personally witnessed and felt anger of the ‘system’ that the Olympics have become with the purchasing of athletes around the world just to get ahead. ‘Inviting athletes’ from different countries to represent another country only for the Olympics, have become more common than not in the recent years. A Japanese comedian had been ‘granted’ a Cambodian citizenship, automatically withdrawing him from a Japanese citizenship, as a member of the marathon runner for the London Summer Olympics. In my opinion, he took away an opportunity from a fellow Cambodian to be empowered through representing their country, their people even if it wasn’t about winning the gold. Unfortunately or fortunately, he was disqualified from competing for the London Olympics – but that’s not to say many others were also disqualified.

The hype of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games was amazing. You felt it everywhere. You also felt hatred as you entered the train with an Olympic affiliated ID that allowed you to take public transportation for free, which many of the train and train lines were rushed and made just for the Olympics. Of course, in addition to all the monuments, hotels, excursions and buildings that was solely built for the Olympics and nothing more. But it’s not an unusual thing, every city to host gets hyped up and pressured to create and show the best of the best. Beijing wasn’t any different. Four years from then, these are what we see as reality today:

David Gray/REUTERS David Gray/REUTERS

This is only an addition to the immense debt that each city carries. So this is why, people on the train would give death stares at the interns and volunteers, to all the foreigners that were temporary ‘visiting’ their city, as if they had decided to kick their very own people out of their land – actually, that is what happened.

Despite all of this and then some, the Olympic is a stage of dreams. Being at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, I felt that the world was here. In addition to the privilege that was given to me to be a part of what athletes only dream of, even if it was off the court. As a handball competition reporter, I felt that sport really is a universal language and the two opponents connected and felt each other through the love of handball. No means of communication, but they were communicating, there was something they shared that overcame many differences. This part has to be credited as deserved.

Photo from Right to Play, China

There are always the good stories that never get enough coverage that come out of Olympics, despite its negative side, which tends to be highlighted more than necessary. “We also know that physical activity, including sport and play, can produce beneficial effects on mental health, including enhancing self esteem, alleviating depression and helping to manage stress and anxiety. When individuals suffering from various mental health issues integrate regular physical activity into their lives, research has shown that their clinical symptoms, particularly for depression, significantly diminish,” states Johann Koss, who is a four-time Olympian who has established Right To Play.

Right To Play is an international organization that uses the transformative power of sport and play to educate and empower children facing adversity. Sports and “play is not a luxury, it is a tool for education and health. It can bring entire communities together and inspire every individual. A game of football can teach children about tolerance and peace, a game of tag can teach about malaria. Play helps teach important life lessons and develop skills like co-operation, leadership and teamwork. Play provides a retreat from everyday hardships and brings joy and laughter, allowing kids to be kids” from the website of Right To Play.

Let’s start underlining the positive aspects of sports and play, even at the very top level as we embrace the true Olympism: drawing together sport, culture and education in the aim of creating a harmonious balance between body, will and mind.

Mario Nishihara worked for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and is currently an MA candidate at the University for Peace, Costa Rica, and Ateneo University, the Philippines. Her research interests include the educational and developmental benefits of sport.