Joe LaRose (United States) on How Olympic Values Foster Respectful International Competition and Dialogue

June 27, 2012

It would seem that in a competition comprised of over 200 countries fielding dozens of athletes in a multitude of different sports, that the losers would outnumber the winners. After all, only three take the podium. They rest should be disgraced and forlorn, at the very least subdued. But they are not. Why is it that Olympians wear smiles even without medals? Representing one’s people in front of the world certainly helps, but this widespread geniality and companionship stems more from the Olympics’ rare ability to create an atmosphere laden with respect. The Olympic values of respect, friendship, and solidarity are omnipresent, from spectators’ support of the common pursuit of excellence instead of solely favoring their compatriots, to the athletes themselves, who cannot help but find common ground with fellow participants from around the world.
For a couple of weeks the Olympics free us from reality. There is always a winner, the rules are clearly defined, and customs rarely change. But with a careful dose of optimism, the Olympic Games and their associated values can be applied to the real world to solve real problems. Sports are a wonderful way to foster understanding between cultures, that much is obvious, but there exist few opportunities for youth to experience international competitions. Youth do not just represent our future, they are the future. Fortunately, young people’s worldviews are pliable; there is no better time to broaden understanding and engender respect for other cultures than during people’s early years.

The International Olympic Committee must supply the world’s youth with more opportunities for cultural communication. The Youth Olympic Games are a triumph for international sport and dialogue. However, as influential as a few weeks of international games can be for young people across the globe, extended stays compound the effects of cross-cultural communication and can elevate the experience from powerful to transformative. Far-fetched this scheme may be, but an exchange program in which students from around the globe come and live in the host city for 6 months to a year prior to the opening of the YOG would greatly benefit the youth involved as well as the Games themselves. The advantages of this initiative range from significant learning opportunities for visiting and hosting youth alike to gaining understanding between cultures. Those able to spend extended periods of time in other countries amongst people culturally different from themselves are able to impart their own unique culture and humanity upon their hosts. The students will return to their homes with extensive knowledge of their culture and, because of the longer duration of stay, the motivation to spread their newly acquired understanding. These students need not be future Olympians; they need simply to possess an open mind, a penchant for cultural learning, and a love of sports. If the Olympic Games are to be more than a brief glimpse of humanity’s cooperative potential and Olympic values more than idealized hopes, the world’s youth must be given the opportunities participate and eventually lead the pursuit of cultural understanding.
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