Norway’s Olympic Games—Were the Ideals Enough?
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN NORWAY
WHEN the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded a hundred years ago, it had great visions. The aim was to promote brotherhood and peace by making youths of all the world gather every fourth year at the sports ground without financial gain. It was hoped that a fair contest would generate solidarity and reconciliation among peoples. On this basis the Olympic Games of antiquity were revived in modern times.
From a humble start in Athens, Greece, in 1896, the Summer Games have developed into the biggest sports festival in the world, with a peak of 11,000 participants from more than 170 nations. The first Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924, and they have always been the “little brother” of the Summer Games. Nevertheless, about 2,000 athletes from nearly 70 nations were gathered for the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway, on February 12-27, 1994.*
The idea of brotherhood and friendship, as symbolized by the famous Olympic rings, and of “a sound mind in a sound body” seems to be needed more than ever. What part did these ideals play at the Olympic Games in Lillehammer?
Olympics and Big Business
The comprehensive news coverage generated an enormous public interest in the Olympics. Four times as many media people as athletes were present at Lillehammer, and a record number of approximately two billion people watched the Winter Games on TV. Thus the Olympics have become a lucrative business for powerful commercial interests, and TV networks and sponsors contend for special privileges and contracts.
Trade and industrial representatives from all over the world attended the Games in Lillehammer, and many of them viewed this international mass meeting as an opportunity to nurture business relations and arrange seminars and conferences. Enterprises, both small and large, showed a seemingly boundless inventive talent through the countless different Olympic products that were sold—everything from pins and postcards to kitchen utensils and clothing.
Naturally, for local people things were turned completely upside down during the Games. The great influx of Olympic workers, participants, and leaders doubled the population of Lillehammer, which usually numbers well over 20,000. In addition there was a daily “invasion” of 100,000 spectators. Some of the local residents chose to go on vacation to get away from the commotion and were referred to in jest as “sports refugees.”
What about the sports aspect of the Games and the Olympic ideals?
Citius, Altius, Fortius
In harmony with the Olympic motto—Citius, altius, fortius (Faster, higher, stronger)—an Olympian tries to break records and outdo his rivals. To achieve this today, Olympians find that it is usually not enough to make sports just a leisure-time activity. It is a full-time job and a livelihood for most Olympians, their income from advertising endorsements being to a great extent dependent on the results they achieve. The original amateur ideal has had to give way to money and professionalism.
In return, the public gets all the drama and entertainment it wants. Several records set during recent Olympics testify to attainments that were unthinkable a few decades ago. This is due not only to increased training and greater specialization but also to improved equipment and better facilities. At the Lillehammer Games, for example, four world records and five Olympic records were set during the five speed-skating events for men. Some of the credit was given to the new skating hall, where scientific measures had been adopted to make the ice ideal for professional skating.
Unfortunately, some athletes stand out by not competing “in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport,” as they promise in the Olympic oath. This year’s Winter Games had some bad losers, and a few athletes tried to sabotage fellow competitors. In recent years it has been necessary to fight drugs and steroids. At Lillehammer, one participant was sent home on the opening day because of doping. However, during the Games none of the athletes tested positive.
There were some new approaches to the Olympic ideals in connection with the Lillehammer Games.
Environmental Protection, Relief Work, and Peace Efforts
A giant operation as big as the Olympics, involving extensive developments and a large-scale production of waste, “is neither resource sparing nor environment friendly.” (Miljøspesial, environmental bulletin for the Lillehammer Olympics) A lot of people felt this was incompatible with the Olympic spirit and suggested making the 1994 Winter Games an environmental showcase. This idea was adopted, and the Lillehammer Games came to attract international attention as the “first Olympic Games with a ‘green’ profile.” What did this imply?
The location, shaping, and long-term operation of the new sporting venues were considered in order to minimize the adverse effects on the environment. In all fields, environmentally friendly and recyclable materials, such as wood, stone, and paperboard, were extensively used, and high environmental standards were set for all sponsors and suppliers. There was a total ban on smoking indoors.
A study of the Olympic goals also led to the foundation of the relief action Lillehammer Olympic Aid. Starting as a collection to aid children in the former Olympic city of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was later extended to aid young war victims all over the world. The action was given tremendous impetus after one of the gold medalists contributed all his victory bonus money from one of the events (about $30,000) in support. The initiators hope that Olympic Aid will continue during future Games.
The customary release of doves in the opening ceremony of the Olympics sent a silent message of peace to the world. The peace ideal was further brought into focus in connection with the 1994 Winter Games, as the president of the IOC, Catalonian Juan Antonio Samaranch, repeatedly spoke about peace for all people of the earth.
Ideals That Will Be Realized
The Olympic ideals reflect a desire that is deeply rooted in all humans—the desire for brotherhood, peace, righteousness, joy, and physical and mental soundness. This year’s Winter Games drew high praise for bringing the original goals of the Olympics back into focus and were spoken of as “the best Olympic Winter Games ever.” Nevertheless, the Olympic movement once again fell short of its ideals.
Prestige and commercialism tended to prevail over the basic ideals of sports. The contest often turned into intense competition that produced egotism and nationalism instead of brotherhood and reconciliation.
Is there a way for the Olympic aspirations to be realized? The Bible shows that human efforts to achieve an ideal world will fail. However, God’s Kingdom will soon take action to bring perfect, paradise conditions to the earth. (Jeremiah 10:23; 2 Peter 3:13) Such a world is founded neither on athletic development nor on loyalty to Olympic principles and traditions but on true devotion to the Creator. The apostle Paul said: “Bodily training is beneficial for a little; but godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.” So for those today who are training themselves “with godly devotion as [their] aim,” the result will truly be a sound mind in a sound body.—1 Timothy 4:7, 8.
Olympic Games were also arranged in 1992, but that was the last time the Summer and Winter Games were held the same year. From now on they are scheduled to alternate every second year.
[Box on page 26]
The Olympic Religious Mix
The Olympic Games are rooted in Greek religion. They were born as a religious festival to honor Zeus, supreme among the Greek gods. Various features of the modern Games have an aura of religiousness: solemn rituals for the Olympic flag, the “sacred” flame, and the Olympic oath. The nearly 100-year-old Greek hymn sung at the opening of the Games was translated into Norwegian for the opening ceremony in Lillehammer. This Olympic hymn has strong religious overtones. It is understood to be a hymn to Zeus. The lyric includes the following statements: “Immortal spirit of antiquity,/Father of the true, beautiful and good,/Descend, appear, shed over us thy light/ . . . Give life and animation to those noble games!/ . . . All nations throng to adore thee,/Oh immortal spirit of antiquity!”
The Norwegian Lutheran Church, through its own Olympic Committee, arranged for an extensive music and religious program. All major church organizations were represented in a large interfaith project. The official Olympic chaplain and an international and ecumenical clergy team were available in the Olympic Village at Lillehammer.
[Pictures on page 24, 25]
Top: Speed skater heading for a gold medal in the 10,000-meter race
Middle: Freestyle aerials represented a new Olympic event
Bottom: Competing in downhill—at speeds of more than 75 miles an hour [120 km an hour]