Why I’m still fascinated by the olympics

My abiding interest in the olympics probably seems a bit weird given that I’m not really into athletics. To be honest I’m not really bothered about who wins what medal. Yet, since 2012, I’ve had an interest in how, every four years or so, the world comes together as one community to participate in one big sporting and cultural festival. Our collective attention is drawn onto one spot on the globe so that, for a month or so, we jointly get to explore and celebrate a city and culture. The selected city gets to show itself off to the world in a once in a lifetime event.

That’s why I’ll always see what happened in 2012, being here in London, getting to watch Lyn and the Paraorchestra play at the Paralympic closing ceremony, as one of the greatest events of my life. But it’s also why I’m interested in the olympics as a cultural and political force. As Thomas Bach explains at some length in this recent Seoul Peace Prize acceptance speech, the Olympic movement is about bringing people together in a spirit of mutual respect. As he puts it, there is no discrimination at the Olympic village. The olympics is probably the only event which draws the world together to compete in the spirit of global culture and universal respect. When I think about it, to have had the opportunity to participate in that, to have been with Lyn and her fellow musicians as they played before the entire world, is jaw-droppingly amazing. Of course, the fact that Lyn has now passed away makes such memories even more poignant and powerful.

What interests me now, though, is the city aspect of it: The IOC selects a city to host the biggest event in the world, so their selection is, in a way, highly political. To be chosen to host the Olympic and Paralympic games means that a city has made it onto the world stage; it has been given the opportunity to show itself off to the world. That is why I’m proud of the fact that London was the first city to hold the games three times – what greater honour could there be for a metropolis? – but it’s also why I’m interested in which city gets chosen. Which city will we get to explore next? How will a city represent itself in it’s bid, and if selected, how will that city choose to show itself off? How will the people of that city use the olympics to reveal itself and it’s culture to the world? I also wonder whether we need more events like the olympics which similarly draw people together, but which are perhaps based around art rather than sport?

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