Where the history books open to the beginning of international sport as we know it, with the first modern Olympiad on the cusp of the twentieth century in 1896, the pages lie sandwiched between a series of ever increasingly more violent episodes.
At this time nationalistic furor seemed to be building towards a crescendo as the industrialised western nations competed greedily for control of people and resources in the zero sum game of world domination; and in Baron Pierre De Coubertin’s Olympic games. This was an an age when the dark side of human nature was about to reach its most destructive potential.
In the history book pages that soon followed in the early 20th century, the ancient primal paradigm of “us against them”, that once pitted ragged bands of club wielding wandering hominids against each other, now expressed as nationalism, was going to be unleashed on humanity in the form of the World Wars’ unimaginable horrors.
Still today, international sport is a product of the age in which it arose and the nationalistic “us against them” worldview that gave birth to it. As a result, the overlooked darkside to international sport is that instead of bringing people together in a celebration of shared enthusiasm for physical culture, it often divides us by inciting our underlying nationalism, encouraging jingoism and inflaming old hatred. The most terrible things in humanity’s history have been done in the spirit of us against them.
We live in a world as much as we live in a country. What is a country anyway, but the name handed down to us for the space between the imaginary lines proposed to be on the surface of the earth. The act of naming is mutually exclusive. By identifying as a citizen of a country, you are no longer just a person, but a special type of different person. I have experienced this painful truth time and again.
The participants of the ancient Olympics made no such exclusive definitions of themselves. They were all Greek free men first, and second, citizens of city states. Nowadays, the Olympic Village isn’t full of Olympians as you might imagine. Inside there are Chinese, Germans, Americans, French, Brazilians, along with the representatives of every other country, who for the most part, walk around constantly identifying with the country name written on their clothes and its propagandised culture.
From my experience, friends suddenly became unwilling and unable to mingle because the bold letters emblazoned on their team uniforms stood out as different from mine; because, from their point of view I had become one of “them”. From the dining hall to the competition venues, this formerly cohesive group of young people who similar lifestyles, dreams, goals and challenges, now splits themselves into separate small groups based on uniform and again wander around the village and forage in the dining hall like our ancient paleolithic ancestors viewing the world as “us vs them” until the national anthems finish playing.
Have we not outgrown this fear based primitive way of viewing each other that has brought us to the brink of mutual nuclear destruction? Today “us against them” must surely be less relevant than ever before as due to globalisation, we all have more in common and less differences than ever previously imagined. Surely “us and them” must soon give way to “we” in the face of the obvious looming existential threats to humanity.
Planet Earth’s ecological problems really stem from humanity’s social problems. These social problems stem from our capital system’s insatiable greed and desire for profit. At the root of which lies the primitive “us vs them” belief that “if one of us doesn’t exploit this for profit, one of them will.”
In keeping with the realisation that our current “us vs them” paradigm is not working, I propose that we make some changes to the spirit with which we approach sport. This will in turn influence our worldview as a whole. Imagine the possibilities of a most prestigious international competition that celebrates humanity in a way of viewing the world better suited to facing our shared challenges and utopian dreams.
Contrast this against the old “us against them” nationalistic way with which the western industrialised nations viewed the world in 1896 that led to the unimaginable violence of the 20th Century. In this proposed new sporting event, the best 100 people in the world rankings in each event would compete, regardless of country origin, or how many others from that same country were also in the top 100.
Competitors would simply compete as human beings in an exciting celebration of humanity expressed as the unique, beautiful individual and the individual as a representation of the incredible capabilities of humanity as a whole.