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  • Dan Connors

Olympics 2021- the dying event that still might save the world

"May joy and good fellowship reign, and in this manner, may the Olympic Torch pursue its way through ages, increasing friendly understanding among nations, for the good of a humanity always more enthusiastic, more courageous and more pure." Pierre de Coubertin, modern Olympics founder

The long delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics are finally over and the athletes and television executives are breathing a sigh of relief that at least something got done after threats of outright cancellation due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The Japanese could lose up to $20 or $30 billion dollars due to the expense of this extravaganza- one in which they could sell no tickets, not even to citizens of Tokyo.

For those of us who watched every day as mostly amateur athletes took a worldwide stage to dazzle us with their abilities, it was a glorious spectacle. From the uplifting opening ceremonies to the fun closing ceremonies, the Japanese people did their best to continue the spirit of the Olympics in what must have been a difficult atmosphere for them. Now, more than ever, we needed to see community and courage instead of fear and divisiveness.

Still, there can be no doubt that the Olympics are dying. Television ratings were down substantially, and the financial bloodbath that has accompanied the Olympics in recent years has dissuaded many countries from even bidding on them. Part of the reason for the ratings decline is the continuing splintering of the viewing public that has seen ratings for other spectacles like the Super Bowl, World Series, Oscars, and network tv in general decline. But another depressing reason for the ratings decline lies in American tribalism and chauvinism.

Because these Olympics were dominated by women- from the torch ceremony to the 60% of all American medals that were won by women, men in a certain circle avoided what they considered the "woke" Olympics. Fragile masculinity has reared its ugly head in the face of outspoken lesbian soccer players, Simone Biles and her "twisties," and transgender weightlifters. Reading the comments section on articles about the Olympics woes showed people gloating when American women lost and pining for the good old days. (When Bruce Jenner won and then turned out to be a woman?) What a shame. Women were bit players for much of the first century of the Olympics but have come into their own, and it has inspired young women everywhere while scaring old men.

There are many possible solutions to the money problems of the Olympics, and they involve a possible central permanent location such as Greece, or a scaled-back games with much fewer fringe sports. But there are things that can be done. Women will always be a part of the Olympics, as will people of multiple races, creeds, traditions, and sexual identities. Even the disabled now get their own Olympics, the Paralympics, an inspiring sequel that follows the games every four years.

As for me, I can't get enough of it. I not only watched the over-the-top prime time coverage, but I made a point to go to the lesser broadcasts of archery, cycling, kayaking, and volleyball games. Just seeing such variety- both in games and also in athletes reminds me of the great diversity and possibility of this planet. I don't really know where Burkina Faso is, but I know their runners work hard and sweat just as much as I do. If the Olympics do nothing else, they remind us all that we are temporary planet-mates on this fragile ball in space.

As a planet, we don't get together very much on anything substantial anymore, and that has become a big problem. The United Nations has been around for 75 years, but it has little authority to do anything substantial. There are still world's fairs believe it or not, and there is once currently going on in Dubai that nobody knows much about. The Olympics is our big shot at global togetherness, and unfortunately a pandemic kept most of the athletes sequestered away from each other. We need more things like the Olympics if only to get people of all countries in the same rooms to talk to each other.

The day after the Olympics ended, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a scathing warning from top scientists that global warming and climate change was more imminent than previously thought. Much was made of the Paris climate agreement in 2015, but the goalposts set by that international conference now look overly optimistic. The new report stressed that worldwide climate has already changed in an unprecedented way, and it is already affecting every region on earth.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN said that the IPCC report "is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk." While many I'm sure will dismiss this as overzealous fear-mongering, climate change remains the number one global issue of the 21st century, and it will take global cooperation on a scale never before seen to deal with it.

It's easy to look at a world map and see all the colored areas and countries and see it as an abstraction. But to see actual athletes from all over the world- young, smiling, hard-working athletes who are putting it all on the line- that brings the human condition more into focus. These wonderful people from Argentina, Belgium, Suriname, Liberia, Jamaica, and Afghanistan all deserve to live happy, productive lives just the same as citizens of every other nation, and I thank the nation of Japan for giving us the opportunity to feel the Olympic spirit for one brief moment in an otherwise divided and sick world.

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