[VIEWPOINT]The meaning of the Olympics

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[VIEWPOINT]The meaning of the Olympics

The opening ceremony and celebration of the 2004 Olympics, broadcast live throughout the world, made us ruminate on the true meaning of the Olympic games, which returned to their birthplace after 108 years.
The “homecoming after 108 years,” a phrase first used by the Joongang Ilbo, must have given readers a taste of romance and reminiscence. But scholars and students of sports may be reminded from the expression that the torch of the Olympics is an eternal vagabond.
As we saw in the 2002 World Cup, sports boast a distinguished superiority as a universal language. From the ancient Greek Olympics to the modern games, the universality of sports delivers the same message to mankind. It speaks the language of equality and benevolence, peace and friendship.
The domain of ancient Greece was grand, with its influence stretching throughout the world known to ancient people. Long before the expeditions of Alexander the Great, Greeks spread throughout the Mediterranean region by dominating the sea. Alternating between unity and hostility, Greeks struggled with the realities of life but reconciled to enrich their souls.
Ancient Greeks stopped fighting war, to run in the stadia of the Olympiad. In modern times, new versions of the athletic festival continue to be reproduced. Today, not just from the Mediterranean but from all over the world, male and female athletes flock to Athens.
Countries that have been competing and feuding with one another in economics, diplomacy and other fields gathered to participate in a celebration of the body and soul through the Olympic games. The Olympics in Athens embrace the United States, Iraq and Afghanistan silently despite the recent tragedies. The two Koreas entered the stadium together at the opening ceremony, proving that the Olympics is a celebration of peace.
But we often misinterpret that the idea of the Olympics is a completed entity. The spirit of the Olympics is destined to be in motion. Holding each other’s flags high, the United States and Iraq entered the stadium to a storm of applause. But somewhere in Iraq, the U.S. forces and Iraqi insurgents are exchanging fire. Hand in hand, South and North Korean athletes entered the stadium, but the two Koreas still have each other at gunpoint. You never know when a suicide bomb will explode in Israel. The Athens Olympics is still under a terrorist threat.
Is it reasonable that the Olympics should be enjoyed as nothing more than a sports festival, and the only language spoken is the rule of the game? Are sports for sports’ sake only? Considering that reality can’t be excluded in sports, the aestheticism of sports might not be appropriate.
Koreans are still frustrated that official records show that the gold medalist of the men’s marathon at the Berlin Olympics is recorded under the Japanese name Kitei Son, not Sohn Ki-jung. Are we truly free from the aestheticism of sports? The United States steadfastly claims that the true boxing champion of the 1988 Seoul Olympics is Roy Johns Jr., who won a silver medal.
I hope that Koreans, especially sports fans, can enjoy the Olympics with a more flexible attitude. If we consider sports as a battle of life and death, that is already far from the spirit of the Olympics. If we are only interested in the number and colors of the medals, it is not pretty. But the most fearful virus is indifference. Nothing can overcome the disease of indifference. If we keep our eyes on the game schedules of unknown athletes in unpopular sports and enjoy the games as they are, we might find a novel pleasure in this year’s Olympics.

* The writer is a professor of physical education at Seoul National University and the deputy head of the Korean Olympic Squad for the Athens Olympic Games. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kwon Yoon-bang
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