"The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."
The Olympics holds a strange and quirky place in International Affairs. After all, where else can the North Koreans and the South Koreans officially stand under the same flag? (Without Kim Jong Il hovering his finger over some big red button, that is. And even though people might say "BAD Kim Jong Il, nobody gets to touch the button, the man is Kim Jong Il! What are you going to do about it?)
The International Olympic Committee is a Non-Governmental Organization that is charged with the mission of promoting the Olympic Movement throughout the world. What is the "Olympic Movement"? you might ask. Well, it includes such bullet points as:
1. Olympism is a philosophy of life,exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.and
5. Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.The Olympics is about competition, sure, but it's also about the promotion of peace, goodwill, and understanding through competition. And here's the thing: sometimes it works.
Of course, sometimes it doesn't work. I could mention the 1936 Berlin Games (the Hitler Olympics) or the 1972 Munich Games (where terrorists killed 11 athletes). But let us focus instead on my example from before. In 2000, North Korea and South Korea marched into the Sydney stadium under a single flag. Two athletes, one from each country, marched out in front of a unified team. These countries have had a flag battle at the DMZ for decades-- one flag gets taller, so the other country has to get a taller flag, and so on.
Okay, so North Korea and South Korea competed as different teams, yeah, but so do the US and Puerto Rico. There's only so much you can ask at once.
The Olympic motto is “Citius – Altius – Fortius.” Swifter. Faster. Stronger.
Maybe someday we'll all get there.
Sources: Nelson Mandela quoted by Michael Payne in Olympic Tournaround, (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006).
Olympic Charter, IOC, in force from 7 July 2007.