[The Fountain] The Olympic Spirit in confusion

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[The Fountain] The Olympic Spirit in confusion

The author is the deputy sports news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

I don’t remember seeing anyone playing a game or sport well when they mention the “Olympic Spirit.” Most of them mention the Olympic Spirit when they do not care about records or their ranking.

But Baron Pierre Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, actually meant it. On the ideals of the Olympics, he said, “The most important thing is not winning but participating, not succeeding but trying.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially states that the Games are held for the completion of humanity by sports and promotion of world peace through games. It is far from just winning a gold medal, setting a world record, or winning most medals.

Recently, the IOC was under fire for its self-proclaimed “Olympic Spirit.” The IOC sparked controversy by saying it would find ways for Russia and Belarus to participate in next year’s Paris Summer Olympics, based on the Olympic Spirit. The two countries are the ones that started the war of aggression on Ukraine.

The IOC said that no athlete should be banned from participating in the Olympics just because they hold a Russian or Belarusian passport. The IOC added that it was finding ways for them to participate as “neutral athletes.”

It may sound reasonable. The decision is certainly in line with the Olympic Spirit to “get together without considering the situation outside the stadium.” But European countries are strongly protesting the decision because the IOC is not only inconsistent but has no clear standards.

When Russia and Belarus invaded Ukraine last February, the IOC quickly joined the international community’s move to sanction the two countries. It expelled athletes from both countries in all sports and deprived them of the right to host international sports competitions. The IOC also restricted their participation in meetings and events to completely isolate the two countries from international sports.

Nothing has changed in the war, but the about-face of the IOC’s stance after only a year triggered controversy. The IOC underscored the need to protect the rights of the two countries’ athletes as the war continued. Does that mean the Olympic Spirit can change depending on the length of a war?

If the IOC’s will to relieve athletes is pure, it must first explain why it reversed the decision. If necessary, the IOC must apologize. It is simply not right for the noble proposition of the Olympic Spirit to be “right this time, wrong another time.”
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