Added by Erik West on July 27, 2012
The day of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony is a reminder of the games’ importance and how they’re tied to politics.
While the first Olympics were held in 776 BCE/BC, Theodosius – a Roman emperor from 379 CE/AD to 395 – stopped the games in 394 CE/AD as part of a campaign to assert power over his political opponents. During the ancient games competitors participated as individuals although their home cities were clearly associated with them.
The connection to nationality became more explicit when the games resumed in 1896 with opponents competing based on the country they represent. The result is competitors wear their nations’ colors, wave their nations’ flags, and accept medals while their countries’ national anthems play.
Theodosius established the games as a political event and the modern Olympics are no different. In 1936 Adolf Hitler used the games to demonstrate Germany’s achievements to boost national pride; in the 1972 games Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists; the US was among 61 countries that boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in protest of the USSR’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan; the 2008 Beijing Olympics were viewed by China as a demonstration of national honor.
Despite athletes’ national ties and the political importance of nations that host the Olympic Games, billions of people watch, read about, and talk about the games as if the outcomes made a personal difference in their lives. Citizens from countries around the world have a common cause, a shared experience, and a shared sense of pride not only in their nations, but also in their humanity.
The lofty goal of peace on Earth has been elusive, yet the pursuit of the ideal of peace on Earth is on display during the two weeks of the Olympic Games, in each nation, each state, and each person that affiliates themselves with the Olympic Games through participation, thought, reading, or writing about them.