Wonder Boi Writes

For Creed or Country?

I believe in the Olympic movement.

I believe in the Olympic spirit.

I believe in the Olympic creed.

Faster, higher, stronger. That is the Olympic motto, but I would add a fourth  word, the word the Olympics always inspire in me: “Better.”

I believe the Olympics, at their heart, call us all to be better. Better than those who came before us, better than those who stand against us, better than the people who try to divide us. Better than our rulers, better than our government, better than even we ourselves have been.

Notice I didn’t use the word “perfect.” Or even “best.” Better is a quest. It’s not final or finished. Better is always a possibility. Better is a steady endless march forward.

I am not happy with these particular winter games in Sochi, Russia. I thought they were a mess from the moment they were announced. Sochi is a remote playground for the rich, and these games have been largely funded by those tycoons. Then there’s the politics of suppression that began almost immediately and have continued to silence many through anti-gay “propaganda” laws, crackdowns on free speech, human rights abuses, racial profiling, and terrorist threats. Now I hear that there’s no running water in many of the hotels and wild dogs in the streets. The whole thing is a mess, and I join everyone calling for the International Olympic Committee to review the processes they use to award the games to specific locales.

Still, I’d be a massive hypocrite not to acknowledge that Sochi is not the first Olympic host to fall short of the Olympic ideals. Most recently, China used the games as an excuse for massive human rights violations, forced labor, and the rounding up of political prisoners. Issues with the host country are not a new problem either. The Berlin games were pure propaganda for Hitler.  Mexico City was the site of major racial conflicts (remember the famous photos?).  And lest I be accused of xenophobia, America has not been some sort of shining example of modern hospitality. The Salt Lake City games were horribly mismanaged and rife with corporate scandal. The Atlanta games displaced hundreds of poor residents, and you want to talk about terrorist threats? Those games actually got bombed!

No, many, if not most, host cities have fallen short of the Olympic ideals.  Host countries have consistently misused the international good will associated with the games. Even more governments or individuals in power have used the Olympics as a chance to suppress their critics or further their own agendas.

Not perfect, not even close.

Then again, what is? I am a member of a mainline protestant church.  I hardly agree with every decision my denomination has made, and yet every Sunday I put a few dollars in the plate. I am a member of a labor union, and while I generally agree with them, they occasionally do something that really disappoints me, but I still pay dues. I am employed by a company that occasionally makes decisions based on profits more than people. That hurts, yet I’ve not joined a nonprofit. I am a citizen of America, and at times the decisions of my government have almost crushed me with grief, yet I do not renounce my citizenship.  I am a member of a family whose members sometimes advocate for things I abhor, and yet I love them anyway.

I remain an active participant in a multitude of problematic systems because ultimately I think those organizations do more good than harm.  I prefer them to the alternative, to going it alone, to isolation, to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  I do not ignore their inherent failings or deny my part in them, but I do not feel they need to be rejected forgoing all their benefits for the sake of their shortcomings, and I feel, at least in the cases highlighted above, that supporting them while simultaneously advocating for change is the best way to make them better.

The Olympics are no exception. One of the ways these games are already helping to make things better is by shining a spotlight on Mother Russia and her recent transgressions. Do you honestly think that a gay propaganda law in Russia would have made international headlines for months were the Olympics someplace else?  Do you think corporations would have felt such massive pressure to weigh in?  Do you think there would have been this outpouring of international support for gay and lesbian Russians if not for these games? I may be wrong, but I believe most people would have seen this as just one more step by an oft-oppressive government.  What else could we expect from a country like Russia? This political crackdown is completely consistent with their history. I believe the only reason it’s made news is that the laws are inconsistent with the Olympic charter. Suppression may be a Russian ideal, but the Olympics call us to be better.

Even more important, though, than the effects the games have on Russia is the power they have to effect change on a much more personal level. You see, these Olympics don’t really belong to Russia. They belong to world. To the people. To you.  To me.  To us. While the Olympics do undoubtedly enable their hosts to wield a lot of power, they are not about their settings.  They are not about their hosts. They are not about the powerful or the rich. Once the games begin, their setting is largely irrelevant, or certainly less relevant than what they enable the global community to experience.

In this world it is very rare that we meet people from other cultures, from other countries without money or guns between us. There is very little chance for us to strive for the best without force or threat of force. There is virtually no opportunity for individuals to reach out to a fellow competitor and shake hands, to acknowledge that no matter what issues our governments have between them, you and I, we are striving for the same things. At time when drones kill from afar and money taints everything it touches, I long for more spaces to compete peacefully. I ache for more opportunities to meet the world as individuals. I cherish every change we have to look someone in the eye and say, “No matter what religion we follow, what language we speak, what color our skin, hair, or eyes happen to be, no matter who we happen to love, we are all pouring our hearts and spirits into being faster, higher, stronger.”

Despite all the things, real or imagined, that divide us, the Olympics reminds us we are all ultimately just trying to be better.

I am boycotting Russia in a way I suppose, but not the Olympics. I do not think I will watch the opening ceremonies of these Olympics. That will be hard for me because I love them so much, but that’s the part of the games that are not really the games. That is the time when the Russian government will lead the show, and I cannot support Russia right now.  But once the games truly begin, I will not miss a minute. Once the people take to the ice, the mountain, the podium, it really could be any ice, any mountain, and any podium. Those moments, those dreams, they are human and they are universal, and I believe every time we come together to recognize our commonalities we are all made a little better.

Follow your own hearts regarding these Olympics. Watch, or don’t. Boycott, or celebrate what you chose. I cannot condemn either course of action. But to me the Olympics are not about being perfect. They never are. Their unifying creed reads, “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.”

Choose your own path. For me, I will take part.

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February 5, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized

3 Comments »

  1. I am a radical lesbian pastor in a Mainstream Church that doesn’t believe in Creeds. As a matter of face, one of our teaching sayings is “No book but the Bible, No creed but Christ.” So I always have a gut reaction at creeds and have to really examine what purpose they are serving and what they are saying on multiple levels. But as WonderBoi has explained it, I can get behind the Olympic Creed, particularly that last unifying creed section that she put in Italics. That is a good measure for life. Rachel, your review of the Olympics and your decisions was very thorough and informing. I find myself agreeing with your conclusions and resolutions. You are a persuasive writers, fiction and non-fiction! Thank you for taking the risk of making a public statement of something that may not be a big deal, or, depending on how events turn out, may become a huge discussion. Stay Warm!

    Comment by onamarae | February 5, 2014 | Reply

  2. Thanks so much for this

    Comment by jessaminedg | February 5, 2014 | Reply

  3. Yea, Olympics can do good, but the Sochi Games set up Putin to attack the Ukraine, something he couldn’t have done before the games in Sochi. That is still causing us problems now. I fear for the lives of the athletes and those that attend the games. Zika is safe in Rio, but not in other parts of the country. What better way to spread the virus than have athletes and fans attend from around the world then go home. Yes, the IOC is not perfect, but they should protect the athletes and in Rio, they are not. The conditions are much worse than Bejing where the air was the problem. 89% of the sewage in Rio is raw and just dumped in the water. During a sailing pre-event the leaders ended up loosing because trash got caught in their rudder, that was after they swerved to avoid the couch in the water. I fear for the athletes’ health during and after the games. The IOC has failed to live up to THEIR responsibilities. I’m still not sure what I am doing. I love the Olympics, I’ve attends past games in person. They are great, but the IOC is failing and needs to live their creed.

    Comment by Sheryl Robertson | August 5, 2016 | Reply


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