The Olympics have gotten a bad rap over the years and it’s time to dispel the cynicism. This Friday, July 27th, 205 countries will gather in London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. This tradition, which dates back to 776 BC in ancient Greece, has been a global symbol of hope, achievement and potential for each participating country. It has also been a beacon of lesser values; commercialism, political agendas, flaunting wealth and status. Let's take a moment to remind ourselves what is at the heart of the Olympics.
Since 1956 when the games were broadcast internationally for the first time, criticism has abounded. For decades the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been scrutinized for scandals such as accepting bribes, playing favorites and taking advantage of power hungry government leaders. With viewership numbers swelling into the billions (the 1992 Games had an impressive 3.5 billion television viewers) counties and corporations began to compete like crazy to get a piece of the action. Since the IOC established the Olympics as a marketable brand in 1985, people have protested the commercialization of such a long standing tradition.
Some countries have even gone as far as to boycott the Olympics. During tense times such as the Cold War and Apartheid, many countries refused to put their differences aside and participate. In the 1980 Moscow Olympics alone, 65 countries refused to compete, taking the participation down to only 81 countries.
Today, just before the 2012 Olympics begin, let’s take a step back and remember that above all, the Olympics teaches us, the citizens of this planet, valuable lessons. Some of the most important ideas we try to teach our children are brought to life during the Olympic Games. Kids can learn a lot during the next two weeks:
1. Work hard. Really hard. The rainy city of London is currently a Mecca of Greek godlike athletes. Olympic hopefuls train all year, every year, just to qualify. If they do make it to the Olympics, they give every ounce of sweat, every last stretch of effort to go for the coveted gold. They embody the meaning of perseverance. They see their goal and stop at nothing to achieve it. It's an invaluable lesson for children: set the bar high and never give up. We try to teach our kids this every day in school. If they work hard, really hard, they can succeed in school and achieve their dreams.
2. Serve your country, serve each other.
There is no event imaginable other than the Olympics that could make the Lakers and the Celtics get along, Tar Heel fans support Coach K or the Williams sisters forget their rivalry. During the Olympics, people put aside their loyalties to teams, players, and cities and they unite. The US Navy and Army might have a friendly competition when it comes to football, but when it comes to service, they are one and only one. During the Olympics, athletes from even the most heated of rivalries play as teammates to serve their country on a global stage. There is only one United States of America. The Olympics can teach kids to support one another and our country, despite our differences.
3. It's a small world after all.
The Olympics are a wonderful time to celebrate diversity. For some people, it's the first time they have seen anyone from Ghana, Brazil, or the Philippines, for example. However, it's can also be an important reminder of our similarities. During these two weeks, we put aside war, terror, poverty, and disease, and remember that we are people. We are people who want to laugh, smile, and feel a part of something. The Olympics teachs us that we must never take our humanity for granted. It is a precious lesson for kids growing up in a harsh society.
Above all, children and adults alike learn a lesson of respect during the Olympic Games. We learn to respect our country, our people, our ambitions, our differences, and our planet. I asked my colleagues what they think of the Olympics, and I was pleasantly surprised by the positivity and optimism in their responses:
"The Olympics teaches us the American dream: work hard and be fearless."- Sara Kelleher, Recruitment Specialist
“Here’s what the Olympics are really about: You stand up for what's right through effort and perseverance to accomplish a unified goal, because society is a human creation, after all, and is therefore subject to human recreation.”- Zachary Bradt, Teaching Fellow
"For me, it was always fun to look at a map and find the different countries of the athletes. Visually, it shows you how the whole world comes together for the event. I think this can be a great way for kids to learn about different countries, geography, cultures, and sports.” –Holly Trippett, Public Relations Associate
“The Olympics to me represent the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and training for athletes striving to be the best and earn the gold in their respective competition. But an athlete can't undertake this journey all alone, and is often times supported by a multitude of trainers, coaches, and family members encouraging and supporting them every inch of the way.”- Jeremy Gaden, Teaching Fellow
"My long-time obsession with the Olympics began in middle school with the US hockey team improbably winning the gold in Lake Placid in 1980. That same summer, the United States boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I excitedly wrote my 8th grade social studies paper on the impending boycott. Looking back, I think this was the beginning of a strong interest in international affairs and public policy in general, which led me to study at Georgetown University. Georgetown set me on my career path in public policy, so I guess I have Mike Eruzioni, Jim Craig, and the whole Miracle on Ice team to thank!"- Christin Driscoll, Executive Director, Public Policy and Communications
So this Friday, tune in to the Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Listen, watch, follow, share, engage, and learn. Learn from each other and take pride in your country, your world, and of course, your education.