By Graham Morrison
August 5, 2008
'One World One Dream'. Well that's the slogan for the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games, which officially open on Friday August 8. You wouldn't think it though judging by many of the stories in circulation. Human rights, pollution and so on. But hold on, haven't we've heard all this before? Well, yes actually.
The Olympic Games is no stranger to controversy; Moscow suffered a boycott, Los Angeles was going to have unclean air, pollution was said to be one reason why Athens failed to secure the 2000 Games, Athens was almost not built on time for 2004, and so on. While athletes were being urged to stay away from Moscow British companies were busy signing trade deals just as Britain now has significant trade relations with China. Go back further and you'll find more. But then the curtain goes up and the moans of multifarious protesters are drowned out in the euphoria that always engulfs this quadrennial spectacle of international sport.
And in any case, as Seb Coe suggested on TV on Sunday, you ask an athlete to give half their life to their sport then tell them "Sorry, it's off!" Don't think so. It is not as if there is another Wimbledon next year, another F1 race next week. It is four years and their chance might have gone forever. Also, the Olympics is the one chance many smaller sports have of appearing on the world stage in front of millions of people and gaining much needed publicity - important for a healthy and varied choice of sport.
But all that aside, do the Games matter to the Jewish world? If you want an answer, ask the Israelis. In Athens Gal Fridman won the country's first ever gold medal and the effect in Israeli was electric. Perhaps more importantly, the Israeli delegation officials got hundreds of phone calls - about sport exclusively, without references and asides to 'Palestinians issues'. The medal had squeezed out politics. Of course, predictably, the odd country will refuse to compete against Israelis, but that is their loss. But is appears to me that it is not a question of not wanting to compete against an Israeli, rather dare not ... you can draw your own conclusions. But generally sport is in an unique position to break down the barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice, and herein lays the real importance of the Olympic movement.
It is difficult to look philosophically at the Olympics without a mention of 1972. I have friends who were there, and well known members of my sport who died in it. The IOC seems to be moving closer to what many of us would consider a proper marking of the incident. London 2012 will be the 40th anniversary of the attack - the only occasion when Olympic athletes have been murdered - and a fitting and dignified ceremony, perhaps in the stadium or some other London landmark venue could draw a line under what must be the most notorious and repugnant incident in Olympic history.