2012 Summer sports bring political discourse


Author: Jack McHenry (Sports Columnist)

From an entertainment standpoint, this summer is going to be one of the best summers ever for sports fans will have the opportunity to not only enjoy the annual suspense of the NBA and NHL playoffs. More uniquely, they will also get to watch the best athletes from countries around the world compete in the London Olympics, as well as watch some of the finest soccer players in the world suit up for their national sides in Euro 2012. 

What sets this summer’s sports lineup apart, however, is that with these two world class events, people all over the world will get a chance to bear witness to the power of sports as an avenue for international dialogue, cultural exchange and good will from all cultures. Though these events happen every four years, the nature of the events bring together political discourse like no other sporting events. And when athletes from across the globe gather to compete for a few weeks this summer, the world will again be reminded that on the global stage at events like the Olympics and Euro Cup, sports can be a force in politics and a forum for political discussion and social change.

International athletic events have a rich history of transcending sports and making bold political and cultural statements. Take 1936, when Berlin and Adolf Hitler played host to the Olympics and sought to demonstrate the superiority of the Third Reich’s racially pure Aryan athletes. Instead, African American track legend Jesse Owens won four gold medals, which essentially disproved eugenics with his individual, virtuoso performance. Then in 1994, South Africa elected Nelson Mandela as president, but the nation was far from unified under the new regime. With the rugby World Cup approaching, Mandela met with Springbok captain Francois Pienaar and asked him to win the tournament for the benefit of the nation. The underdog Springbok side won the World Cup, and the image of the Afrikaner Pienaar hoisting the championship cup along with Mandela created an indelible image of hope for the future of South Africa. Both of these events publicized positive statements against oppression in their respective eras. Owens’ victories peacefully protested and critically exposed the racism of Hitler’s new regime, while Pienaar and Mandela, through their friendship and cooperation over the course of the Rugby World Cup, provided South Africans with a hopeful image for peace and coexistence in the post-apartheid future.

Whether watching or playing, sports are a way to come together with others and devote an entire existence to a game. Witnessing sports played at a high level allows for fans to share that transcendental quality. It is a way to relax and interact with people sharing a common interest. Events like the Olympics and Euro Cup are so special due to the sharing of those ecstatic sporting moments in an international setting. People from different nations, backgrounds and ways of life can communally enjoy athletics on the same basic level that requires only a simple love of the game. The majority of fans will interact, enjoy sports and engage in positive cultural exchange without really even knowing it. This is not the conscious, forced internationalization of a structural adjustment or of UN peacekeeping missions. These are real people genuinely enjoying one another in a way that can only happen when partaking in something as satisfying as sports. But it is ignorant to sell the significance of these events short as merely temporary joy experienced in a festive setting with no political significance. The communal environment created at these events is the purest form of cosmopolitanism. The world stands to learn and build on the good will created at these events. 

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