We are in the full swing of the Tokyo Olympics, athletes from around the world are gathered to compete and show the world what the best of the best can do. Sport has the power to inspire and unite. Behind every Olympic athlete, there is an incredible story of hard work, perseverance, discipline, pain, successes, and failures.
When you watch those athletes perform you are witnessing something very special; you see a special breed of humans who are passionate, dedicated, and on top of their game physically and mentally. When you experience the energy and anticipation that exist in a stadium full of fans and supporters cheering for their favorite teams and players, you can see that sport has the power to inspire and unite and it matters a great deal.
“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 a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” Nelson Mandela.Nelson Mandela
Sports has the power to inspire and unite
In February 2018, the World Economic Forum posted an article entitled, The uniquely unifying power of sports, and why it matters. The author, Mark Ein, stated: “Any discussion of the power of sport has finally to include its importance as a vehicle to teach our youth – and the rest of us – the lessons of leadership, good health, teamwork, fair play, self-reliance, and continuous improvement.”
The world is a fractured place. There are conflicts between countries all over the globe, and also conflicts between people from the same country. Sport has the power to inspire and unite. Throughout history, people who otherwise have little in common have come together on neighborhood pitches and in packed stadiums, as fans and as players, and put those differences aside for the sake of their teams. Sport has the potential to unite people in times of extreme chaos and violence. Even in the most tumultuous of circumstances, sport gives people from all sides a respite from the endless conflict and violence and allows combatants to see each other once again as human beings instead of merely enemies.
The Olympic Truce can trace its origins back to 776 BC where the rulers of the time agreed to end any conflict for a week before and after the Olympic games in the spirit of sportsmanship and universal peace. The truce ensured that the host city was not attacked, and athletes and spectators could travel safely to the Games and peacefully return to their respective countries.
Sports has the power to inspire and unite in times of peace and war – Flashback
The 2009 movie Invictus starring Morgan Freeman who played President Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon who played Francois Pienaar, directed by Clint Eastwood tells the inspiring and true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the Captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of Apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela gives his full support to South Africa’s rugby team (the Springboks) as they make their run to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match.
South Africa is hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup, that being the only reason the Springboks are even competing in the tournament as its years on the sideline of world rugby events has not made it world ranked. The Springboks were previously considered the team of white South Africa and had no support from the black section of the population. Mandela decides to place his support behind the Springboks; he reached out to captain Francois Pienaar to ask him to help him unite the country by achieving the unrealistic goal of the Springboks winning the World Cup. Carried by a wave of unwavering support from the population, the South African team progresses throughout the competition reaching the final and having as opponents the all-blacks from New Zealand (no need here to introduce the all blacks as their reputation as rugby powerhouse precedes them). Against all odds Springboks wins 15-12! Never underestimate the power of sport, this rugby game made a nation.
More recently, in the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, we saw once again the power of sport, when athletes from North and South Korea marched together at the opening ceremony behind a unified Korean flag. The two nations even entered a combined women’s hockey team in one of the most dramatic gestures of reconciliation between them in decades. The two teams trained together in the lead-up to the Games, and they were supported by fans from both countries; North Korea allowed a delegation of North Korean fans to travel to Seoul to support their team.
Sport has once again proven to be an effective mechanism to break the impasse and get the countries not just talking but working together. l hope that the diplomatic momentum that was built in the Korean mountain community of Pyeongchang during the winter Olympics will continue. The amazing unifying ability of sport to allow individuals to cast aside their differences and come together in the spirit of the games amplify the unique place sports occupy as an instrument for unification that is strong enough to bring people together even during the most divisive times in human history.
Those images of South Korea and North Korea marching together at the Winter Olympics games carries a lot of emotion for me. Seoul holds a very special place in my heart, it was my home for many years, and it is the country where my two daughters were raised. The conflict between the North and the South is something that the Koreans have been living with for decades and seeing the South and North Korean Athletes side by side during the winter Olympic games was a spectacular and historic moment.
Never underestimate the power of sports, it can inspire, unite and heal a nation.
And this, my dear friend, is your Quest.
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