The Olympic Games. Few gatherings in history hold the same extraordinary power over so many people. Worldwide, the modern Olympics are one of the most watched, most attended, most dissected series of events; and they are reborn in a different city every four years.
The modern games are a contemporary attempt to recapture the idealism of the ancient Olympics first staged in 776 B.C. Conflict ceased so nations might send representatives to battle in the arena of sport rather than on the fields of war. Our modern facsimile is the best approximation we can muster – better to have this recurrent vision of peace than no peace at all.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games was the largest peacetime gathering in the history of the world. It cost billions of dollars to stage, most of which came from corporate sponsorships to save American taxpayers from footing the bill for the world’s largest party. This effort, though, gave way to a level of commercialization never before seen at an event touted to embody the purest motives of humankind. Instead, the most apparent motive in Atlanta was greed.
In Sydney, though, organizers strive to accommodate as many people as possible without sacrificing what many see to be the most important aspect of the Olympics – the games themselves. Sport is the focus in Sydney, and the Australian government has financed much of the event. But one can still see the corporate logos and commercial interruptions that have become as much a part of the Olympics as gold, silver and bronze.
Could that money be put to a better cause? Hungry mouths desperately need food in impoverished Africa, the inner cities of America and countless other desolate places. Disease still ravages entire nations, even continents. The list of ailments infecting our global home is nearly endless. Why spend so much money staging a contest of sport rather than helping those who need it most?
But can countries put a price on peace? Can they quantify the simple elegance of North and South Koreans marching into Stadium Australia hand in hand under a unified banner, or of Iraq and Iran – two bitter enemies – standing together on the same field in celebration?