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Where is the Olympic Peace?

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Visitors sign the Peace Wall ahead of TOKYO 2020, the XXXII IOC Olympic Games. Photo: IOC Media / Greg Martin

By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games began this week. However, these are not the typical Olympic Games and these are not typical times. We have never seen an Olympics like this and really have no way of knowing how it will all turn out. Many people associate the Olympics with intercultural and international unity. That is, sort of like a moment of world peace. The Olympics are supposed to bring us together and help us to forget all of the world’s conflicts for just a few weeks and enjoy the competitive spirit of humanity. The Olympic Village is supposed to be a focal point of cultural exchange. People around the world are supposed to travel to see the athletes competing, joining hands in unity. We are supposed to feel Olympic Peace.

This year, there will not be any spectators. Sports fans around the world will not join together and mingle. Athletes will be mostly isolated in the Olympic Village with limited interaction with others. The combination of COVID-19 fears and unusually hot weather will keep them indoors. While the ancient Olympic Truce, or “laying down of arms,” will still be in place, peace without people embracing it will not be the same. Many wonder whether Olympics can be what they are meant to be without the fans coming to enjoy them in person. The energy in the air and the chemistry between people will be missing. The athletes will perform in empty venues. There won’t be fans singing Olympic songs together or rooting for their favorite Olympians.

There is a lot of conflict in the world right now and we are more divided than ever. In the midst of the pandemic, people need some relief. They need an escape. Ideally, sports could provide this escape but ironically sports are hit hard by this global disaster. COVID-19 has essentially taken sports away from us. While we can watch the games in television, it will not be the same without the fans. It cannot be. Something important will be missing no matter how hard the organizers work to make up for it. Olympics is not just about the games. True Olympic Spirit is about people and about peace. This Olympic spirit is best voiced in the Olympic Creed: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” The seven Olympic values include friendship, excellence, respect, courage, determination, inspiration and equality. These values cannot be fully expressed without people being allowed to interact freely and without the fans being there to embrace them.

Taking part in the Games is not just for the athletes. We are all taking part in our own ways. However, friendships do not occur when we take part in isolation and passively from our living rooms. In many parts of the world people cannot even go to sports bars or other venues to enjoy the games together. There will be no friendships being formed, no unity, and very little of inspiration. We will still admire the athletes and celebrate them before they are forgotten after the games are over. However, there will not be a long lasting impact of being touched by the Olympic Spirit.

Dr. Tomi Wahlström is the Provost at the United States Sports Academy.

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