The Olympic Games: More than a competition

Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights, Protests, Social Justice, Sports -

The Olympic Games: More than a competition

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in the United States and across the world, the 2021 edition of the Summer Olympics have kicked off. Competitors from around the world are now in Japan looking to excel in their life long aspirations of sports. However, as with nearly every other topic in the space, the Olympics cannot be discussed without the political messages around them, which at times can make the Games difficult to enjoy.

While the focus of the Olympic Games is placed on those in the arena, there are stories developing on the outside as well. For example, in Japan the opening ceremonies were met with protests in the streets. Residents of Japan were chanting against the idea of the event still being held even as the country struggles with COVID. A recent poll by Kyodo News reported that nearly 87 percent of respondents showed a concern over the Games continuing as the pandemic isn’t completely under control. The opposition to the games is a real thing, even as they go on with the world watching.

The conversation doesn’t end there when it comes to consistent pushback on the Olympic Games. This edition raised ire before it started when the IOC effectively banned any display of solitude with the social justice movements that have risen to prominence in the last year. This isn’t new, as the Olympic Charter long banned what is deemed “political, religious, or racial propaganda” during the Games. But this has become a talking point since many athletes are using their platforms to drive awareness about the need for social change.

Think back to the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved fists into the air in defiance of growing racial inequities in the United States. They both faced massive repercussions for their actions that would take years for them to overcome. But their stance and promotion of it were both on the right side of history. The same could be said about the athletes of today that look to champion social causes to drive for change at a time when it is needed in the United States. Instead of allowing those athletes to use an opportunity available to them by their hard work to reach the Summer Olympics, the IOC has made it clear those statements will not be welcome.

The very idea of the Olympic Games is political in nature. Teams and individuals are competing for “bragging rights” for a country. Yet another opportunity for one country to say they are superior to others simply because what happens on the field of play. That message is more than welcome in the Olympic Games, but anything shining a light on the challenges of the citizens in those countries isn’t welcome. That’s what happens when the narrative that sports and politics aren’t related continues to win out.

For the next few weeks the 2021 edition of the Olympic Games will be the center of the sports world. Athletes competing for a moment that they’ve trained much of their lives to achieve. The IOC has made it clear that some political messaging isn’t welcomed, as was the same in past years. But with so much going on around the world, there’s a need for athletes to continue to create awareness around the these issues going on within the countries where they live.