I watched the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics last night. I could write for an entire day about the artistry, precision, and beauty of the spectacle and still not even come within spitting distance of describing it. How can you not love China? Tea, calligraphy, tai chi. Okay, so there’s smog, human rights abuses, and communisim, too, but they still get high marks for the tea.
I love the Olympics. I enjoy the athletic competition, but that’s really secondary. I love the Olympics because for that one brief fortnght every two years, governmentsare not the most important players on the international scene. Presidents take a backseat to pole vaulters. Dictators are knocked off the front page by diskus throwers. Sultans don’t have as much gold around their neck as a few really incredible swimmers.
I appreciate the feelings of national pride people can experience around the Olympics. The Chinese were sure strutting their stuff last night. And I suppose if I was there I might even chant a few “USA”s myself. But national pride has a dark side. It’s an “official” form of bigotry. We’re from Iraq, so we get to hate Iran. We’re from Japan, so we get to despise China. We’re from the U.S., so we get to glare suspiciously at North Korea. As if people are really different once a national border is crossed.
The Olympics present a wonderful opportunity to put political ideologies aside and root for the human spirit. I don’t really care if the American girls win the gymnastics medal or the Romanian girls. I would absolutely love to see the Island nation of Samoa or the Democratic Republic of the Congo go home with a medal. ANd some of the best Olympic stories are about the non-medal winners. I applaud them all.
I am a citizen of the world and my race is human. So when the Russians win or the Chinese or the French or the Americans, I swell with pride and sometimes even cry a little during the anthem.