Savir's Corner: The Olympic World

The Olympics are a celebration of youth and promise. The Middle East and Israel were part of this celebration..admiring the modern-day global heroes.

Rowan Atkinson (R370) (photo credit: Reuters)
Rowan Atkinson (R370)
(photo credit: Reuters)
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 peace.
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 Bolt.
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 politics.
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.
This 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 disqualified.
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.
Better 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 Cameron.
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.