By Ken Reed

The Winter Olympics kick off on Friday in Beijing with the Opening Ceremony. In my experience, this is the least excitement and build-up I’ve ever seen for an Olympic Games – winter or summer.

Maybe it’s the Covid cloud that hangs over all sporting events these days: Will the Games be cancelled? How many athletes will get Covid during the Games? Will entire teams be quarantined? Etc.

Maybe it’s the repressive Chinese government’s human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

Maybe it’s the Peng Shuai incident in which the WTA tennis player accused China’s former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her, followed by the Chinese government blocking the topic on its internet system.

It’s probably some of all those things. And rightfully so.

There’s so much baggage with the Olympic Games. The word “Olympics” triggers memories of not only amazing athletic performances, inspirational displays of courage and outstanding acts of sportsmanship, but also cheating scandals, nationalism, violence and over-commercialization.

The modern Olympics were established in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin to bring the world’s nations together in the “spirit of unity, peace, communication and cooperation.” In the more than 125 years since, the Olympics have probably failed at that mission more than succeeded.

There has been plenty of ugliness throughout Olympic history.

From Hitler’s use of the 1936 Berlin Olympics to tout the virtues of Nazism and white supremacy, to political boycotts, to terrorism at the Munich Games in 1972, to performance-enhancing drugs scandals and crooked judging, to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding disgrace.

And you can add to that list the disgusting graft in Olympic site selection and construction.

Nevertheless, the Olympics are filled with terrific athletic drama and never seem to fail to inspire the human spirit in each of us. Despite the gunk that infiltrates the modern Olympic Games, every couple years they still show us what human beings are capable of. And not just in terms of athletic achievement but via great examples of unity, intercountry and interfaith communication and sportsmanship.

We’ve also seen powerful moments of calls for social justice, such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in protest on the medal platform in Mexico City.

These Games will likely bring us examples of the human condition at its worst and best. And I think it’s important to not ignore either case. For it’s possible to call out — and shine the spotlight on — all the negatives surrounding these Beijing Games and still enjoy the many positives brought to us courteous of participants who not only have great athletic ability but in many cases great character too.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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