Sport is a weird phenomenon, when you think about it. On the face of it, it pits two or more people or groups of people against one another; it encourages competition and rivalry. Yet at the same time it is about bringing people together, either to compete or spectate. Whether it’s football, cricket, or any other sport, people come together to enjoy it. This is probably especially so for international competitions: events such as the Olympics or Football world cup encourage people to converge in one place to enjoy sport together, irrespective of international rivalries or supposed differences. Take, for example, the oldest, biggest sporting rivalry I know of: the Ashes. For well over a century now, every two years the english and Australian cricket teams have come together to battle it out. On the face of it, there is no love lost between the two sides, and competition is fierce. Yet at the end of the day, England and Australia remain firm allies, with huge cultural exchanges between the two nations.
Take the Olympics too, in both it’s summer and winter forms: every couple of years, the world comes together to focus our attention onto one city. On the face of it, we all support our respective teams, hoping they win plenty of medals. Yet on a much deeper level, events like the olympics are about global unity. Every two years, we all get to experience a different city, which has the privilege of showing itself off to the world. Whether physically or through the media, we get to visit places we otherwise never might, and watch our teams as they compete in sports which we otherwise would have little knowledge of. To this end, I was just watching the Curling from Beijing: I didn’t know much about curling, but could feel myself thoroughly getting into it as the match wore on.
For me, such events aren’t so much about who wins what, as much as the act of coming together to compete. Each country forms it’s team to send across the world to meet others and play against them. An event which on the face of it is about rivalry is actually about unity: we all come together to enjoy eachother’s company, relishing the rivalries and different approaches to each game, while knowing that at the end of the day, we leave each court, track or playing field as friends. That is why I see the olympic games as an incredibly progressive force, especially if you factor in what the paralympics does for the representation of disability. Thus while they may come under some flack from some quarters, as I once wrote here, I actually think we need more events like the olympics: global, mass media events which draw the worlds attention, and which bring us all together as one global community. What form such events may take I’m not sure: they might focus on sport, but they could equally be celebrations of art and culture. Above all, they should bring people together, just as the Olympic Games do.