London 2012 is coming to an end. The Olympic Games, which take place
every four years, represent the greatest gathering of countries, peoples and
cultures. In ancient Greece, the Olympics was an assembly of young men, mainly
warriors, and during the Games, a truce was declared, linking sports and
In the modern Olympics, there is no such truce. This summer, guns
were not silenced in Damascus or Kabul, and yet London 2012 exemplified a much
more harmonized world than the world of politics. It was an expression of
globalization at its best: Some 210 nations participated, and billions gathered
in front of TV sets to admire modern-day heroes such as Michael Phelps and Usain
A young family of nations came to London to compete, even fiercely,
but peacefully – in accordance with the Olympic ideals. For three weeks we
witnessed a world of the people, for the people, and not of politicians and old
It all started with a General Assembly, not in New York, but
rather in London: the July 27 opening ceremony, which saw the secretary-general
of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, as a bearer of the Olympic flag alongside well-known
peace activists and in front of the secretary-general of the International
Olympic Committee and the Queen. All competing countries convened in the center
of the stadium, represented by their athletes and flags.
The real master
of this assembly was the British film producer Danny Boyle, who orchestrated a
most creative fireworks of expressions, reflecting the best of the host country
as well as the democratic ideals of the Olympics and the progress of society –
from Shakespeare to The Beatles, from the industrial revolution to the Internet
revolution. All in a universal language with a great British sense of theater
and a unique British sense of humor. It was the ultimate victory of British
humor over American show business.
Who else could have showcased Her
Majesty the Queen parachuting into the stadium, alongside James Bond, or have
Mr. Bean give a hilarious performance of Chariots of Fire? Humor, especially
British humor, gives a different, often self-critical perspective to life and,
in this case, turned the rather bombastic gathering of nations into a more human
episode of togetherness.
The opening evening, like the Games themselves,
was a tribute to the young generation, united by the one and only Paul McCartney
with millions around the world singing “Hey Jude,” and by those who lit the
Olympic torch, this time not a famous Olympic gold medalist, but a few young
British sportsmen and sportswomen, who were bestowed with the great honor of
shedding light unto the thousands of athletes in the stadium.
General Assembly gave birth to an Olympics that reflected a globalized world, a
world of the people; possibly globalization as it should be, or even the world
as it could be.
Indeed, the Olympics are a fairly democratic enterprise,
with each Olympian having equal opportunity to earn a medal, competitors
treating one another as peers and no hierarchy despite the fierce competition.
There is also gender equality, with no disciplines reserved for men only, not
even soccer or boxing. This year for the first time the American athletic
team was composed of more young women than men and even countries like Iran and
Saudi Arabia felt compelled to send women competitors.
And yet there are
sports “superpowers,” the criteria not being military or political power, but
rather the number of Olympic medals won – a multipolar world led by the United
States, China, Great Britain, Russia, France, Germany and Japan, but without the
power of veto. The African continent is also prominently represented, especially
through their formidable middle- and long-distance runners and gold
medalists. The five Olympic circles, each representing a continent,
different in color, but all equal.
The Olympics also has its heroes or
“leaders”: the great success stories of attractive and promising young athletes,
such as the American gold medal female gymnast Gabby Douglas, with her
outstanding performance in the individual all-around competition. Gabby won her
gold medals for most amazing performances, a new Nadia Comaneci. A 16-yearold
African-American with a Chinese coach – the best of all worlds, a modern day
hero, or rather she-ro.
The Olympics are a celebration of youth and
promise. Several 15-year-old gold medalists and a 35-year-old Bradley Wiggins of
Britain in the House of Lords – this was the “youngest” Olympics ever,
reflecting the desire to empower the young generation in favor of a better
world. The politicians who visited the Games, such as Vladimir Putin, seemed
like irrelevant bystanders. In London 2012 we witnessed coexistence between a
variety of cultures: Chinese floor gymnasts performing to Chinese traditional
music, African soccer stars who rejoice with folk dances after scoring a goal,
the hip-hop celebratory dance of American athletes draped with the star spangled
banner – a multicultural collage of identities and expressions creating a common
language of mutual respect.
And the world watched, supporting vehemently
their national colors but in awe of the great success stories from all over the
world; hundreds of millions were glued to their TV sets, 20 percent higher
ratings than during the Beijing Games, watching the same pictures from the
British TV pool.
People communicated with London and with one another on
the Internet, Facebook and Twitter – the technology and information revolution
in favor of creating global communication.
The Middle East and Israel
were part of this celebration of youth, each country supporting its athletes and
admiring the modern-day global heroes.
During the Olympics the Egyptians
seemed not to focus on President Mohamed Morsy, but rather on the British Spring
and silver medalist Egyptian fencer Alaaeldin Abouelkassem, who won the
first-ever African medal in fencing.
The Tunisians forgot about the
Ennahda party and cheered on their successful track and field athletes and their
basketball team’s brave loss to the American dream team.
Even the Saudis
respected the changing world, for the first time allowing two women athletes to
participate, including 16-year-old judoka Wojdan Shaherkani, who competed with a
traditional head scarf. The Iranians also had women athletes competing, although
they were probably the one country that did not leave politics aside. Although
their delegation head announced in London that Iran would compete against
anybody, the official media in Tehran announced that they would not think of
competing with “the Zionist enemy.”
For that alone, they should have been
As to Israel, for three weeks Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud
Barak, Avigdor Liberman, the Tal legislation, the draconian economic measures
and even security concerns were sidelined, including in newscasts, as Israelis
seemed to enjoy every minute of the Games, hoping obsessively for Olympic
success for our athletes. Our delegation was made up of 38 young athletes; while
most of them not at the top of their sports on the world scene, they are
nevertheless very promising, attractive athletes who represented the blue and
white with pride, dignity and an uncharacteristic Israeli modesty.
than any Foreign Ministry ambassador. For once, we were part of the family of
nations with humanitarian and democratic values, peaceful competition,
multicultural expressions and youth empowerment, and interconnected by modern
and new media.
What can we learn from London 2012? Possibly that the
world can be different, that people are more interested in Olympic competition
than in politics, that young people can, despite national differences, lead
together to a multicultural, peaceful coexistence.
Yet the lesson will
likely not be learned. We are returning to the old world of politics of hatred
and violence – back to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar Assad, Netanyahu, Putin and
See you again in Rio 2016! The writer is president of the Peres
Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
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