Olympics: where patriotism, universal brotherhood merge

August 4th, 2008 - 12:20 pm ICT by IANS  

By Zhou Yan
Beijing, Aug 4 (Xinhua) When Kim Collins sprinted to a stunning victory in the 100 meters at the World Championships in 2003, most people had no idea which country the letters SKN stood for. Collins, from the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, said his victory was “the biggest thing” to happen since his country with a population of less than 40,000 gained after independence in 1983.

“You don’t have to be from a big country, a rich country, a rich family,” he said. The world was looking for St. Kitts and Nevis on the map the moment they knew what he had achieved. To do their homeland proud is apparently a driving force for all athletes at world championships or Olympics, and sportsmanship has proved to be an essential part of their national identity.

As Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd put it: “When the world looks at Australia, so much of their image of Australia is shaped by what our sportsmen and women have done on the field of sport, including the Olympic sports.”

When Tanzanian marathon hero John Stephen Akhwari dragged his injured leg to finish last with four hours 30 minutes in the marathon race in the Mexico City Games in 1968, he received warm applauses and cheers.

“My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me to finish,” said Akhwari, then 30.

Despite finishing last, Akhwari became one of the most memorable figures in Olympic history and was honoured as a national hero by his country in 1983.

National pride is ingrained in every athlete and every game. Over the years the world witnessed how Japanese volleyball fans roared in favour of their national team and how the Italians mourned their football team’s loss on home soil.

Yet, what impressed us most was how American youngsters waved miniatures of the star and strips and roared their country’s name until the end of the 1994 World Cup in Dallas.

When asked why they were cheering when the US team were not actually competing that day, the answer was they were “cheering on their country”.

The Olympic flame apparently ignited the Chinese people’s love for their homeland and a multitude of them took to the streets after overseas attempts to disrupt, or even sabotage the Olympic torch relay earlier this year.

If their readiness to embrace the world, coupled with a love for homeland, is interpreted as “frantic nationalism”, we fear such a judgment was based on a parochial way of thinking.

Remember the 2002 Winter Games opening in Salt Lake City? A tattered US flag recovered from the smouldering ruins of the World Trade Centre was displayed and President George W. Bush declared the Games’ opening on behalf of a “proud, determined and grateful nation”.

It was the US message to the world: Americans loved their nation that was still overshadowed in the Sep 11 tragedy. And the world should stand united to promote common ideals and hope for peace.

Years before the Beijing Games open, Beijing has moved to play down the public gold expectations and trim citizens’ behaviours for one of the biggest international gatherings ever.

It takes more than patriotism to host successful Games. It is important to show due respect to all athletes that are honouring the Olympic spirit — shining stars like Phelps or those persevering Akhwari.

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