The Power of Sport

8 Aug 2016


The Olympic Games only come around every four years. Often the majority of the sport is played whilst we're asleep, due to time difference (as will be the case in Tokyo 2020). I would never normally even consider watching Archery, Taekwondo or Badminton on TV. Nor would they regularly appear on prime time on BBC One. But the Olympics are something special, that unite, inspire and bring out the best in us.


On a sporting level, I love the Olympics. Every Games I discover a new sport or two that captures my imagination and attention. In 2012, that was Archery and Handball. I'm excited to see what it will be this year. Beyond that, I'll happily sit in front of the screen and watch whichever sport is on - whether it's the 100m final or the first qualifying round match of the water polo. The sport is, almost exclusively, well played, and played in a sporting manner. However, the Olympics are special on a deeper, more significant level.


The opening ceremony of each Games sees each competing nation brought out before the crowds to enjoy their moment in the global spotlight. For the next few weeks they will be competing against one another and fighting to make it to the podium, but here, at the start, they are all equal. Whether it is Tuvalu (with a squad of just one athlete, Etimoni Timunani, a 100m sprinter) or the United States of America (with the largest squad of 552), they are all equal when they walk out in front of the crowds. At the start of each race, match or fight, each competitor is equal when standing at the start line or waiting for the starting whistle (at least they will be if and when the IOC sort out the doping scandal). Anything is possible, and a nation believes in anything.

I would generally describe myself as a patriotic, proud person. Every four years, almost every British person joins me in that regard. In between, we are not the most patriotic people. Unlike America, for example, flags are not proudly hung above so many family homes and the anthem is not sung so regularly. But in these summers, we become proud to be British, proud of our community. Our athletes come from our one, big community. Chris Hoy, Jess Ennis and Ben Ainslie all grew up with British lifestyles. When they win gold, we are all proud of them. In 2012, Royal Mail painted a postbox gold in the town of each gold medal-winning competitor. This highlighted this point. These athletes came from ordinary towns and villages, right across the country, in each of our 4 nations. I believe that we should be more proud of ourselves and our country (that's probably another article for another time) but during the Olympics we come together to support Great Britain like we rarely do at any other moment. Athletes like Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Adlington become role models for so many young British children. Unlike with, for example, the Premier League, Olympic heroes are seen as realistic role models, for the fact that they are like us, and we universally support them (well, universally within Britain).


The London 2012 Games did something further. We were not just proud of our athletes, but of everybody else - the train drivers, the shop vendors, the security staff and, perhaps most importantly, the volunteers. The real heroes of London 2012 were these volunteers. They embodied the spirit of the Games - passion, respect, humility, a desire to help and serve, and a sense of national pride and duty. I only wish that I were old enough to volunteer. It really was the greatest show on earth. Despite the games being held in one small area of East London, its impact was felt across the country. We were lucky enough to celebrate this sensation, and I truly hope that Brazil will experience the same.


Despite all that is going on around the world, we, as a global community, come together for the Olympic Games and celebrate together. The fact that the International Olympic Committee has more members than the United Nations speaks volumes, but demonstrates one key idea - when we really want to achieve something, we unite and achieve it. The Olympics bring out the best in people for they inspire unity and good-heartedness. This spirit should be embraced by spectators around the world, because it makes us happier, kinder people.


This afternoon I watched swimmer Adam Peaty break the world record in his event. Before the race, I had never heard of him, and I don't have any special interest in swimming. But I felt so immensely proud of him and of our country. He put in so many hours in to achieve that goal, and to hopefully win the gold medal for his country. Let's all come together under the banner of Team GB and the Olympics, because when we do, this would becomes so much more liveable and loveable. 


Read more articles by this commentator, or follow @Zak_Wagman

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