The Olympic Spotlight

jesseowensSeveral of our community members and Ambassadors brought up concerns over our recent promotion of the upcoming 2014 Olympic Winter Games. They raised important issues around equality and civil rights in Sochi, Russia, the hosting city. The author of the previous post wanted to respond and add to the conversation, sharing how the Olympic Games can actually help to change culture and politics in the host countries. Please find his post below:


Throughout its history the Olympics has focused the attention of the nations of the world – on the athletes yes, but even more so on the nations who host and participate in the event. It has illuminated both the greatness of the human spirit and our short-comings. Here are several of the best examples of the Olympic spotlight and the influence it has had on our global consciousness.

Jesse Owens

As one of the greatest Olympic athletes, Jesse Owens brought the spotlight to the issue of racial inequality. At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany Adolf Hitler hoped the games would prove his theories of Aryan superiority. When Owens, a black man, broke five world records and tied a sixth in only 45 minutes, he overturned those theories in front of the entire world. What’s more, his accomplishments brought attention to the problems of racial segregation in his home country.

Oscar Pistorius

Despite the tragic events involving Oscar Pistorius, this athlete brought the spotlight to how we look upon people with “disabilities.” Both of Pistorius’ legs were amputated when he was a child but he went on to become one of the fastest sprint runners in the world. At the 2012 Summer games in London, he became the first double-leg amputee to compete in the Olympics. His accomplishments showed the world what the human spirit can achieve despite perceived physical limitations.

The Games Bring Worldwide Attention to Evoke Change in the Host Country

The 2002 Winter Games were hosted in Salt Lake City in the United States, a region dominated by the Mormon Church which participated heavily in the hosting of the event. The Olympics brought world-wide attention to this religion in ways the Mormon Church hadn’t experienced before, and part of that attention focused on the church’s suppression of women, historic discrimination against black members, and bigoted position on homosexuality. Since that time, the Mormon church has owned up to over a century of racist policies, drastically improved its stance on homosexuality, and is currently undergoing an intense internal shift in attitudes towards the role of women in society.

China’s Humanitarian and Environmental Problems in 2008 Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics brought China to the world stage in a greater way as it hosted the games for the first time. Beijing was almost passed over because of concerns about China’s human rights record but was finally selected in the hope that the international attention might lead to improvements. There were also significant concerns over China’s poor environmental policies which led China to begin addressing its terrible pollution problems. These problems still continue, but the Olympics brought these problems into our global consciousness.

Gay Rights at Sochi in 2014

The upcoming games in Sochi have brought the spotlight on recent anti-gay propaganda legislation passed in Russia that has led to increasing violence against homosexuals in that country. Openly gay Olympic athletes from around the world have spoken out against Russia’s treatment of gay rights and will continue to draw the world’s attention to the issue throughout the games. The Olympic Games is one of the few events where we can see things like gay-rights as global issues rather than just national issues. Here are two great articles on this issue:

Though the Olympic Games don’t directly provide solutions to humanity’s problems, they do bring attention to them. We do not overcome the problems of the world by ignoring them, nor even by fighting them. Again and again, we overcome our problems by becoming aware of them on a global scale then making progress bit by bit. The Games are just one of the reasons we can hope for a brighter future.

by Mark Sullivan

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