DATE: August 15th, 2016
AUTHOR: Pastor Conrade

5Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. (2 Tim 2:5)

(Faster – Higher – Stronger)

I love watching the Olympics. It is a premier sports event held once every four years in spectacular fashion. Each country would send their best representatives to win glory on the world stage. For some, they send the best of the best. Every athlete would train hard and make tremendous sacrifices in order to even be selected as an Olympian. The glory of winning and the pride of hearing one’s national anthem being played drive each competitor to do their best. As a result, every event is packed with world-class athletes who not only push themselves to their personal best, they push one another to be the best that each can be.

Unfortunately, like sin, the Olympic Games have been tainted by greed, selfishness, and all forms of corruption. There are those who use performance enhancing drugs or equipment. Take the doping scandal for example. The case of the state-sponsored doping scandal in Russia has resulted in a big controversy on whether all Russian athletes should be disqualified or not. In Rio 2016, the central Olympic committee decided to pass the responsibility to the individual sports, which to me is a copout. The Paralympics on the other hand made it clear: All Russian athletes are banned for the 2016 Paralympic Games. Without making a strong stand against illegal practices, the current Olympic Games remain shrouded in controversy with lingering accusations of corruption from the top down.

Nowadays, we cannot simply trust each country’s representatives to do their own tests or their own controls. Everyone has to go through a standardized form of testing and qualification. This not only ensures a level playing field, it weeds out the possibility of unfair measurements. From the initial qualification trials to the finals at Olympic host countries, the rules are firm and those who break them are penalized, even banned.

Another way the Games has been tainted is how nationalism rank higher than sportsmanship. In “The Olympic Spirit is Unbridled, Rabid Nationalism” published in Foreign Policy magazine, David Clay Large looks at why the Olympics have become such a huge success and attributes it to a “deep well of communal passion harbored by competitors and spectators alike.” Not only do the Olympic athletes push one another, they push the nationalist button in every spectator, every TV viewer, and every person watching the Olympics from wherever they are. In doing so, people have unwittingly put nationalism above the spirit of the Olympics, just like many all over the world have placed ‘success’ above the virtue of honest living.

A competition must retain its credibility by making sure everyone competes fairly and within the rules. In 2 Timothy 2:5, we are reminded that the victor’s crown must be fairly won by athletes who play according to the rules. Rules listed out clearly for every country’s Olympic committee, from the sponsorship regulations to the individual qualifications. Everyone must play according to the Olympic Creed. Most importantly, we need to cultivate healthy respect for one another, and to maintain a high level of sportsmanship throughout the Games. Sportsmanship such as the runner Ashley Liew, who after realizing his fellow runners missing a U-turn during a marathon, chose not to take advantage of the situation but waited for fellow runners to realize their mistake and to continue racing once they were even.  Or like the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia where a Canadian ski coach rushed to help an opposing team member, Russian skier in trouble, by offering a new ski. Or the classic case of Derek Redmond, a British runner at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, who suffered a terrible hamstring during a 400m final race. Despite knowing he had no chance for a medal, he completed the race. These are the examples that elevate the values of the Olympic Games. (Read more here).

The five rings represent the five inhabited continents in the world

The spirit of the Olympics can be summed up by the founder of the modern day Olympics back in 1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin: “Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger). . .  The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

We must rise above the temptation to cheat. We must honour the competition. We must respect the integrity not only of the sport but of each other. Win gracefully. Do everything with excellence but always with graciousness and sportsmanship. For each athlete had put in immeasurable amount of time and invested huge resources for their years of preparation and intentional training. They have given their best which is exactly what sportsmanship is about.

Perhaps, one of the best ways is to remember that we become the best not when we win a medal. We become the best when we personify the true values of an Olympian. I like what the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan said about the Olympic moment back in Athens 2004 in his speech, “Celebrate Humanity.”

The greatest moment of a swimming race is not when one swimmer begins to pull ahead of the pack, or when one touches the wall in victory.

The greatest moment takes place before the starting pistol fires — the moment when no nation is greater or smaller, or stronger or weaker, than any other.

For me, that is the Olympic Moment.

What if this “Olympic Moment” can be spread to all moments? What if we all treat one another the same way we all want to be treated? What if the participating and the encouraging become second nature to us? These would be much better than a gold medal around the neck.

As believers in Christ, we must rise above these things to be the best people that God has created us to be, and to help others do the same. We strive for excellence but we also compete fairly. We aim for perfection but we accept that imperfections are a part of a broken world. We push one another to do the best but also remember that being the best is more important than ruling over the rest. Winning is important, but being a person of honour and integrity is far more important. May we as Christians honour Christ in our hearts in whatever we do.

Let me close with this moving video of Derek Redmond played to the tune of “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban.