The Olympics – why bother?

Upon watching experts from the opening ceremony of the London Olympic games, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer spectacle of the thing. It was unbelievably huge and (I couldn’t help but think) unbelievably expensive! I remember as an eight year old watching the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and then as a twelve year old watching the Olympics in Athens in 2004. I enjoyed both these events – what I remember liking most was the athletes parading out in turns, clothed in their nation’s cultural dress. As a child I didn’t think about the disparity between the number of parading athletes from say Australia and Moldova – as a child the Olympics is nothing but exciting and wonderful.

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Now, frankly, I couldn’t care less about the Olympics. I’ve never been particularly interested in sport, and as far as I can tell, most Olympic sports are merely stunted versions of real sports (shot-put? No thank you.)  I’m not a child or a teenager anymore; the time I can spend watching television is limited, which means I choose the television shows I watch very carefully! The Olympics doesn’t feature on this selective list. I admit, I haven’t watched a single event of the Olympics this year, including the open ceremony. Olympics stories have been rampant in conversations with friends and family, on the news, on social media, and now even in class. Even with all this second hand Olympic saturation I didn’t feel like the Olympic Games was anything to bother about…Until I saw some excerpts from the opening ceremony.

I was completely bowled over. Yes, the Olympics are a very big deal.  It seemed that my memory had failed me – had Athens been this colossal? Sydney? Perhaps I just hadn’t taken in the hugeness of it all. What blew me away when I watched the ceremony was simple – nothing is as big as this. Nothing in the world is as big a spectacle as the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games. It is unique. It happens every four years and nothing in the world can match it (except perhaps the World Cup). So how could it not be something to get excited about?

It seems obvious now. I thought a grand slam was huge – the Olympic Games have a tennis tournament – plus a thousand other things!  Of course millions of people tune in to the Olympic Games around the globe; it’s an international tournament on the biggest scale imaginable. The amount of publicity and income the Olympics brings to the host city ultimately means that the city has a duty, in line with Olympic tradition, to blow at least a large chunk of that money on a loud, crazy, colorful, exciting ceremony that people will wake up at five in the morning in the Southern Hemisphere to watch.

What I had been missing became obvious. What’s so great about this enormous event except for the simple fact that it gives everyone something to talk about? The conversations, the news, the social media – everything that I hadn’t been able to contribute to ultimately focused into the best thing about the Olympics: social participation in the biggest event over the last four years. David Morley writes “The social community is effectively united by the production of a shared sense of reality.” For the next few weeks, the Olympic Games are our reality. It is our national and global reality. It may be just one of the many events and broadcasts that shape our perception of the world around us – but it is certainly one of the biggest, worldliest and most breath-taking.

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The opening ceremony – I certainly didn’t want to be taken in by it; I wanted to hate the enormous amount of money spent on such a vapid, superficial, good-for-nothing glorified light-show when it could have been put to such amazing use in foreign aid. But I couldn’t hate it. I couldn’t help but turn into the unthinking, enthusiastic eight year old at the Sydney Olympics who had to love it, who just had to be sucked in by the spectacle of it all.

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