Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lessons from the Olympics

There is much we can learn from the recently concluded 2012 Olympics. These games were impressive on many fronts — from the opening ceremony, to the daily and perfectly executed competitions to the behind the scenes efficient management — and London, indeed Britain, has a great deal to be proud of. The spirit of the Olympics extends well beyond the competition among nations for gold and it makes sense to reflect on what lessons can be discerned.

An obvious lesson is that talent is the significant relevant factor, not privilege. Too often in other areas of life we reward people either because of a privileged background or some connection that gives them a head start over others. Those who try to cheat the Olympic system are usually found out and they lose out altogether. The rigour with which the International Olympic Committee enforces the focus on talent and a level playing field sends the right message to those talented athletes from small and smaller countries that through hard work their raw talent and ability can translate into success — witness Kirani James from Grenada.

It is important to note that while there is a focus on winning medals, even those who do not win medals can still showcase their talent and growth. Our own Roy Allen Burch set a new Bermuda record, while just missing out on making the finals. Both he and our national swim coach, Ben Smith, should be applauded for this. Success can come in a multitude of forms. 

With the Olympics we see the emergence of national pride that at times may be euphoric but never jingoist. It often has a unifying effect on a country as citizens suspend the daily battles with real and imagined enemies and thrust their support behind their athletes, with momentum gaining as one advances to the next round and the medals are won. There is much to be said about events that can bring a country together, where its citizens come to appreciate that at times the pursuit of the national interest minimises other differences that exist. 

An enduring characteristic of the Olympic spirit is a clearly demonstrated respect for people of all nations and a policy of zero tolerance for those racists and bigots who would tarnish this image through their actions. Their administration of justice in this arena was clear, swift and definitive. A consequence of this is that all athletes and their representatives are more likely to have high confidence levels that there will be minimal factors at play to take their focus away from the games themselves. 

Of particular note this year, the Olympics demonstrated that they can adjust their policies and rules given a changed set of realities. Having respect for all religions meant there had to be found a way to accommodate Muslim women who wanted to compete and continue to practice their faith. This was accomplished with little fanfare yet set an important precedent which no doubt will evolve further in 2016. The IOC made the sensible decision to allow Oscar ‘Blade Runner’ Pistorius to compete and, again, set an important precedent for the admission of competitors with prosthetic limbs.

Finally, the infrastructure built for the Olympics provided the backdrop for these impressive Olympics. It is true that there were significant cost over runs — a report from the Said Business School at Oxford University puts it at £8.4 billion, double the original estimate of £4.2 billion — but there is little doubt the tremendous investment into economically depressed areas of London will reap long rewards for the people living there.

The spirit of the Olympics has now been passed on to Rio de Janeiro; the legacy of London is both instructive and encouraging.

1 comment:

  1. You'll be hosting your own mini games next year when the Island Games are held. My son is so looking forward to meeting your fellow islanders. Unfortuately we've got no chance ourselves, here on Anglesey, North Wales due to the failings of our local council representatives. The old school still rule here. Old rules, old schools, old sport centres, old attitudes....the llist goes on.