Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympics that Include All Make All Strong

The parade of 204 nations stepped along swiftly at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.  I was pleased that after each commercial, NBC “caught us up” with those we might have missed during the breaks .  It was not always so. Sometimes smaller nations do not matter.   Of those proud delegations that entered, 81 have never won a medal of any kind.  But they were there!  Large nations with hundreds of athletes and island nations with two.  The proportions vary by the season, of course. The Scandinavian numbers swell during the Winter Games and countries in warmer climates come out for these.  But they were there! The challenge to the powerful is to know--to learn--the names and cultures of those still less recognizable.

The world is large, and, yes, smaller. An athlete is born in one country, goes to school in another and trains in yet another.  What is your home country?  Have we crossed all boundaries?  Yes,  and no.

Wars and rumors of wars cannot be denied. Violence and animosity are part of world realities. But still the nations were there. The two Koreas did not march together this year as they had for a brief time in past Olympics. Forty years ago was the tragic shooting at the 1972 Olympics; today both Israel and Palestine marched in. A quiet moment of silence elsewhere if not at the opening ceremony  itself.  Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Egypt. Argentina and England. Cuba and the United States both marched in, even though, after all these decades, barriers remain.  Thailand, Timor-Lesta, Tonga, Trinidad-Tobago, Tunisia (where the Arab Spring began.)

And Rwanda was there, the country torn apart by genocide now rebuilding remarkably through respect and collaboration. Today it is the only nation in the world with a female majority in Parliament and 1/3 or its mayoral posts held by women.

For the first time every country had women athletes as part of their delegations.  Forty years after Title IX, this is a huge advance for the games. For some countries, this is no small victory, and still, today, no small challenge for the ordinary lives of women.   The fact that the U.S. delegation had more women than men—by a few—is less notable, not the goal in my book.  Full freedom for and  partnership of women and men is the goal.

And, of course, I cannot comment on the role of women  without mentioning Queen Elizabeth herself.  She grew up way before Title IX.  But she was “the good sport” of the evening.  Her James Bond arrival was a surprise; her steadfast role was not. She was Princess Elizabeth during the 1948 London games, when the city was still much in rubble from WW II.   She herself as a teenager had served in the war as a driver. She became Queen only four years after those games, leading the United Kingdom from Empire to a Commonwealth of nations.  She has always been brave.  Her leadership has helped shape the world portrayed in this opening ceremony where large and small nations respect and work together not to dominate and rule over, but to share in mutual understanding for the welfare of all.

Her actual entrance, along with the Prince Phillip, was followed by the singing choir of deaf and hearing children leading the national anthem of the United Kingdom.  I wondered why the children were dressed in pajamas.  It soon became clear as the next segment in the ceremonies which took us from London’s agrarian to industrial to digital age, highlighted the National Health Services and England’s contribution to children’s literature! Doctors, nurses and children were center stage. Real life, and yes, real contributions to the world!

The Para-Olympics will follow; however,  people, with disabilities, including the runner from South Africa, are also part of these games and ceremonies!  When all are included, we all are stronger.

Which was people’s favorite part?  I appreciated the eight chosen to carry the Olympic flag: Doreen Lawrence, East London resident and community activist; Sally Becker, volunteer relief activist for Bosnia and Kosovo; Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations; Haile Gerbrselassie, Ethiopian long distance runner; Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize recipient; Shami Chakrabarti, director of Great Britain’s Council for Civil Liberties; Daniel Barenboim, orchestra conductor who brings together Arab and Israeli young musicians, Marina Silva, Brazilian environmental activist.

People loved the torch-lighting, a gathering of leaf-shaped bowls accompanying each nation. Digital lights dimmed as people focused on fire itself. Danny Boyle said he liked having the  500 construction workers who built Olympic Park be the ones to welcome the torch .

People. Ordinary people, gathered together. Amazing! Unreal?   No; very real.