Of Winners and Losers

London Olympics 2012

By Anil Gujadhur

After Beijing 2008, it was the turn of London to win the right to host the summer Olympics in 2012. The games have come over again since last Friday evening, marked by a sumptuous opening ceremony. Thanks to the development of communications, the poorest from Asia and Africa as also the super wealthy from the West, are able to witness the fantastic displays and feats of excellence in sports by the 10 000 athletes gathered under the Olympic flag in London.

Many may not be aware that the first Olympic Games were begun on a relatively modest scale in Olympia, Greece, in 776 BC, that is, nearly three centuries ago. They consisted of a single man-only event, the sprint, in which naked men took part for the duration of the games in honour of God Zeus. Winners received a crown of an olive branch rather than the gold, silver and bronze medals that have become the norm in today’s world. The Games were banned by a Byzantine emperor in 394 AD, only to be resuscitated some 1500 years later in 1896 in their modern version in Athens by the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin. There have been interruptions in the holding of modern Olympics for reasons of war in the past period but the Games have nevertheless been maintained almost continuously to this day.

It is good that we still have the Games, the more so at a time when an unexpected economic downturn since 2008 has had depressing effects the world over, in stark contrast to preceding waves of good growth for decades on. Spirits have therefore been downcast during past years due to a gloomy outlook of potential loss of employment, cuts in wages, social benefits and pensions. The economic dislocation is not all.

Social disruption has been on the rise in different parts of the world. There is a simmering discontent with the way the world has been managed of late, uninhibited by national frontiers. It may be recalled that it is in the wake of London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics that the 7/7 bombings of London’s subway and its major roads took place. It’s as if one man’s gain is another’s loss. The world has been torn apart by separate vindications of all sorts and, by what is going on in different countries, the road ahead looks perilous indeed. How and when will an overturning event of large enough scale take us all off from the surrounding gloom? This appears to be the question in all well-intending minds. An event like the Olympics could perhaps stand up humans as a race worth celebrating after all.

Game-changing opportunities

The whole world needs a moment of relief to free itself away from the numerous localised and global preoccupations that have tensed it up over so many years now. If it is allowed to run this disastrous course, as things stand at present, all this might peak at some fully unwholesome and disproportionate outcome of ever growing disharmony among the peoples of the world. There is an urgent need to snatch ourselves out from the tenacious grip of adversity that has seized whole swathes of humanity. The solution-providing mind needs to overcome physical constraints which keep you from growing out of pre-existing, and often self-imposed, barriers. With 204 countries, including Mauritius, participating this time round in London 2012, the Games present one of those game-changing opportunities to mark a breakthrough from a world that has been busy looking for culprits for all that’s currently going wrong on planet earth.

There is a need to think in a different direction from what we’ve been into, so that we become more creative once again and shed the destructive strain that appears to have gained currency in different parts of the world. We need to act to remove the various straightjackets that have established themselves as barriers to peace, progress and harmony. Rather than seeing sectional interests diverging from each other permanently due to a desire to exert dominance for all the times over everybody else, progress can only be made by sharing and making the best in ourselves come out at the top by a process of meritorious selection.

This is the true spirit of the Games, an unrelenting desire to break away from limitations that stand in the way of human achievement. New records have been set each time the Games have taken place in different sporting events, some 400 of them today, quite an evolution from the single event that took place in the beginning. Thresholds of human endeavour have thus been successfully raised on each occasion individual or team forces of matching excellence have been confronted against each other. The clue to keep in mind is that no grudges are kept within against those who triumph at the Games by those who lose nor is spite carried forward for any vengeful act to perpetrate later. It is actually the losers who have made the winners in each such event, inevitably portraying the loftiness to which human effort can rise.

Extremely balanced and mature individuals have emerged from the play, proving on each occasion, if that were necessary, that the world is none the worse off when the crown of glory comes to be placed on new heads each time a hitherto unknown protagonist emerges successfully from the trials. Athletes who have taken years of arduous preparation before striding upon the Olympic pitch bow out when, acting on the principles of fairness underlying the Games, they have come across others more performing who have shown better mettle. Achievements based on fairness of the sort show that nothing can stop progress. The Games have consistently been bringing into the fold of achievers what at one time appeared to be out of bounds for all those Olympians from the developing world. Many of the latter have gradually come to share over the years the same light of fame and glory that was once the preserve of a limited few almost exclusively from the rich countries of the world.

Romance and modernism

London 2012’s opening ceremony last Friday was not the same in terms of grandeur and display of technicality that the opening ceremony of Beijing or its colourful finale achieved towards projecting China in its new garb of an emerging world power, back in 2008. But London 2012’s opening ceremony was fabulous in its own way, not less so to those who are familiar with the history of Britain. It was a brilliant presentation stitching together, within a span of 3-4 hours, glimpses of social and economic evolution of Britain during the past four centuries. A brief nostalgic journey back in time, showcasing the amalgam of both the romance and variegated modernism underlying British society. Some sort of economic Darwinism had no doubt set into the minds of people once Beijing and before it, Athens, had, by engaging in lavish spending to organize the Games, set the bar so high that other nations might have thought of staying out of hosting such expensive an undertaking. London 2012 has shown that you can do just as well with a smaller budget. It is ingenuity more than huge spending that can make the real difference.

There is nothing wrong when nations vie against each other in a bid to outperform each other in terms of the shine and glamour with which the Games are organized each time. Such acts of enhancement become part and parcel of a global sporting culture embracing the able-bodied but just as well the less able-bodied participating in the Paralympics. They make the Games memorable. The same goes for athletes, men and women pursuing the ultimate goal of excellence in their respective disciplines, who try their utmost to do better than the best that was achieved in the past. They honour the motto of the Olympics: ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (Swifter, Higher, and Stronger).

The flame of hope

Seen from another angle, the Olympics have bankrupted some host cities (and countries) in the past; for others, they have been a boon. It is true that the British economy is currently struggling against the economic cycle which has beset it at the moment but one needs to look beyond the immediate difficulties into a brighter long term that will inevitably be brought about after the Games. Olympics could be an intrinsic catalysing factor for accelerating the transition to a better world. Events like the Olympics can change the outlook not only for the host country but, like the Olympic torch travelling round the globe, they have the potential to light the flame of hope of better-things-to-come across the whole world. They have a catch-on effect. Second, they provide excellent opportunities for business networking. Countries use them as an occasion to sell what best they have by forging new trade links with entrepreneurs who are on the lookout for opportunities to do business on new and better bases.

All of this requires prior preparation by countries which want to position themselves more effectively on the global marketplace. If you have comparative advantage in know-how, creative industries, education, technology, high-value engineering, etc., you have an opportunity to get into alternative arrangements with other than your traditional trade partners. With a good preparation, at this level, even a country like Mauritius could have showcased its potentials, networked with different partners and freed itself from the threat of economic isolationism. There is a big world out there and there are breakaway opportunities over there for all those who use every such global occasion with the right focus. Like getting the fun out of the Olympics but advancing the framework of doing business at the same time, why not?

* Published in print edition on 3 August 2012

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