Olympics: From Celebration of the Human Spirit to Circus of Consumerism

At their inception in ancient Greece, the Olympic games principal meaning was- even more than a celebration of the human body and spirit- a sacred time of peace. The Olympics were a truce honored by every city in Greece. The frequent warfare between towns such as Athens and Sparta would come to a halt. Meanwhile, the conflicts would instead play out peacefully in the arenas, the stadiums, but not on the killing fields. The ancient soldiers shedding their weapons to become athletes, and by doing so, transposing the violence of war into the peaceful competition of sports. This is what sports were always supposed to be: a transposition of deadly aggression into a non lethal form. A catharsis away from violence, a subliminal version of it.

Needless to say modern days Olympics have betrayed this primary requirement of a truce between warriors, a moment of peace between nations. While the London Olympics are unfolding , the nasty business of warfare is taking place all over the planet. Civil war in Syria, war in Afghanistan, drum beats of war against Iran, and illegal assassination programs cowardly perpetrated by the drones of the Obama administration. After thousands of years of complete hiatus, the Olympics were re-invented by a XIX century French aristocrat; the  Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

The founder of modern Olympics lobbied tirelessly, on several continents, in the late 1800s, to eventually gain enough support in Europe and America for an idea which seemed unrealistic and Utopian to most of his contemporaries. Coubertin was finally able to organize the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. At the time sport was synonymous  of amateurism. An activity for gentlemen excluding, by definition, any financial gains. This notion of amateurism, of keeping money out of the Olympics, was very much at the center of Coubertin’s vision for  the modern games. Another notion was primordial to Coubertin. He thought that the Olympics were a great way to promote peace and cooperation between world nations, and even to prevent conflicts by giving national pride a way to express itself.

“May joy and good fellowship reign, and in this name, may the Olympic torch pursue its way through ages, increasing understanding among nations, for the good of a humanity always more enthusiastic, more courageous and more pure. The Olympic spirit seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example, and respect for universal ethical principles,” said Pierre de Coubertin.

If the idealistic  and somewhat naive French aristocrat was still around today, he would unquestionably be shocked, angered and perhaps ashamed by what happened to all the great principles he was trying to set up ad vitam eternam. The Olympic torch, and what it is supposed to symbolize, has ceased to burn a long time ago. It is now in the realm of smoke and mirrors. The ancient Greeks and Coubertin’s Olympic spirit has been replaced by the forever burning greed of the merchants. Athletes are living and walking billboards for the circus of global capitalism. During the Olympics, wars do not take a break any longer, the killings continue. In either case, the industrial-military complex and global corporations only see the bottom line. Sport just like war is just a very profitable business, and why let such things as peace and the triumph of the human spirit get in the way of good old profit?

Editor’s Note: Photograph number one by Diego’s sideburns and photograph number three by Wayne Hsieh.

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