Olympics: breeding ground for transformative actions
One of the most important things that I have learned as a sport athlete came from the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. I went there with a vision of representing my country and competing. However, it did not take me long to realize that the Olympics is more than winning medals; it is a platform to drive social change and foster peace and understanding. It is where participants share sporting values and spread optimism and creativity to all.
The 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, South Africa’s first Olympic Games since 1960, took place before South Africa’s first democratic elections. When I think about it, I still remember emotions I felt when I won the silver medal in the 10,000m event and the lap of celebration with Derartu Tulu. We draped our national flags –South Africa and Ethiopia- around our shoulders, and ran around the track together. At that moment I suddenly understood that the Olympics are more than a competition of nations. It is celebration of what we can achieve collectively as human beings.
After 1992 Olympic Games I was surprised by the warm reception I received back home in South Africa. I learned that the images of that celebration with Tulu helped to unite my country. It gave people courage and hope to rebuild and reconcile South African society. Even today people in my home country stop me on the street to tell me where they were in the moment of the race and how much it means to them.
The Olympics allowed me to meet athletes from all around the world, to witness their great performances and to see and feel the values of the Olympics – respect, excellence, friendship, determination, equality, courage and inspiration- in action. During those 17 days I was able to see how the Games offer a window of opportunity for participants, audience and federations to send messages of peace.
Nelson Mandela used to say that sport has the power to change the world: “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” I believe that athletes can help spreading Mandela’s words and promoting the sport values to all continents after the Olympic Games. We can contribute with our time, skills and knowledge to create a positive impact in our communities.
Nowadays, a number of athletes are playing an active and crucial role in developing and supporting projects for advancing domestic and international development and peace projects. Their active engagement is indeed a powerful means to inspire and give hope to the new generations. Today, the Olympic movement participating in Rio 2016 can also join and contribute to the peace through sport movement.
What it is lacking from our world is inspiration, hope and optimism. Sport and the Olympics Games will not impose peace. But they might inspire it. A small action such as a kiss, a hug, a lap of celebration, a statement, or a selfie by participants can generate unimaginable positive consequences. It can help to build bridges and create more tolerant and inclusive world.