Just in case you were too busy to notice, June 23 was Olympic Day, held to mark the founding of the International Olympic Committee by Baron Pierre de Coubertin back in 1894. Check out the United Nations Calendar and you’ll see that almost every 24-hour period has been earmarked as a ‘Day’ to raise awareness for one cause or another, while the commercial world has nominated special days to celebrate/sell everything from beer (FYI the first Friday of August) to French fries and – best of all – ‘Ice Cream for Breakfast.’
There is a problem here. As the number of days in any year is strictly limited by science and tradition to just 365 (or 366 in a leap year), demand now outstrips supply and some days even have to double up. And when more or less every day is a special day, it can be difficult for those outside the top tier of religious festivals and national days to achieve much in the way of what marketing folk call cut-through.
Olympic Day may not be the highest-profile celebration on the calendar, but its programme of participatory events – often featuring local Olympians – is important because it is designed to get its message of participation and Olympic values across where it really matters.
And the reason why it is so important that this particular special day resonates around the world was inadvertently underscored by one media outlet that wished its readers a ‘Happy Olympic Day’ at the head of a news section that kicked off with Kuwait’s threat to sue the International Olympic Committee for $1bn. In other Olympic Day news, Russia was preparing to take its appeal against the IAAF’s doping ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a Somali coach had been arrested in an EPO investigation and the capital of the world’s most repressive country had been awarded a world championship event in weightlifting.
— IWF weightlifting (@iwfnet) June 23, 2016
That these stories broke on Olympic Day was certainly ironic, but the reality is that they could have been taken from pretty much any day. Doping, match-fixing and corruption around sport have been covered here many times. Scandal has become the mood music of the times and when you add to that the scenes of violence, fuelled by drink and nationalism, at Uefa Euro 2016, it is easy to conclude that international sport isn’t in a great place.
Next month the Olympic Games will be staged in a city and country that, in many respects, reflect the turbulence, uncertainty and polarisation of the world at large. It is a world in which the notions of unity, respect, tolerance, fair play and common purpose – among the founding principles of the Games – are increasingly difficult to find. Instead, the affairs of the world are dominated by increasing fractiousness, hard-edged rhetoric between nations, intolerance and disingenuity. My fear is that, in the midst of all this, international sport will be used as a vehicle to further personal and national agendas, and provide fuel for the engine of discord that is shifting through the gears.
The Olympic Games provides an opportunity for sport to win back some of the credibility that has been eroded over the years and to show a positive face to the world. Billions around the world will watch more of the action than ever before as new tales of triumph and despair, bravery and determination are written into the folklore of the Games. It represents a massive opportunity for the Olympic movement to live up to its billing as a genuine force for good.
We need a Games that is remembered for moments of brilliance and acts of courage. We need a Games to enthral its divided host nation and unite the rest of the world. As the Olympic Day headlines demonstrate, sport has some way to go to fix itself, so we need a clean Games competed in an atmosphere of mutual respect rather than national antipathy. Above all, we need a Games that reflects the Olympic movement’s spirit, aims and objectives, which have greater credibility when they cascade down into countries and communities through initiatives like Olympic Day.
If sport has the power to change things and have a role in shaping the world, then now’s the time to prove it. The Olympic Games and Olympic Day are in the front line.
Scenes of thugs running amok in France during Euro 2016 filled every sane observer with a sense of incredulity that the tribalism that attaches itself to the game is still manifesting itself in violence after more than half a century.
While it made for distressing viewing, it must have gone down particularly badly in Doha, where preparations for the 2022 World Cup are under way. Public order is not a day-today issue in the super-wealthy state, but the idea of hard-line fans of European teams closeted together in a single city during the World Cup suggests it may become one.
Now the people who are running the Qatar World Cup are intelligent and worldly. They will have been aware of the possibility of hooliganism and will have developed plans. But after events in Marseille and elsewhere, even they must be wondering whether it’s really all worth it.