After being postponed for nearly a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was finally opened on Friday, July 23, 2021 local time at the Tokyo Stadium, Japan. As usual, the opening of the world's largest sports festival was marked by the lighting of the Olympic flame. Every four years, athletes from around the world compete and test their skills in sports to determine who are the champions — the best, the strongest, and the fastest – and medalists for their countries.
How proud a country would be if the athletes they sent to the Olympics won gold medals. The people of Indonesia certainly still remember when badminton athletes Susi Susanti and Alan Budikusuma succeeded in presenting gold medals for Indonesia at the Barcelona Olympics, 1992. While the whole country erupted in celebration, some were crying because they were moved by the efforts of the champions, which is understandable because that was the first time Indonesia won a gold medal during its participation in the Olympics, since the Helsinki Olympics, 1952.
Undoubtedly, the Olympics is a moment for participating countries to show their power in the world’s sports. As for the hosts, the Olympics can become a massive self-promotion event because at that moment all the eyes of the world are on the host country. Therefore, it is not surprising that many countries have been competing to be able to host the biggest and the most celebrated sports competition in the world.
Historically speaking, the Olympics were first held in Ancient Greece in 776 BC and were initially associated with religious rituals because they were held in honor of the Greek god of Zeus. The sports competed were physical sports, including wrestling and free boxing. The participant who lost the fight had to raise his index finger as a sign of surrender, otherwise he would die (killed by his opponent).
After the Greeks were defeated by the Romans in the second century BC, the Olympics were no longer popular. Then, in 393 AD, this sporting party was completely abolished by the Emperor Theodosius because it was considered a pagan game. After that, the Olympics were not held again until the end of the 19th century. It took about 1.500 years to revive the Olympics and it was eventually held again in the modern era, in Greece, 1896.
The Olympics in the modern format no longer contain religious elements. Likewise, the Olympic Fire was used to have a sacred meaning, because the myth has it that Prometheus stole the fire from the gods. These days, the fire is imagined as a symbol of spirit and at the same time a symbol of the light of humanity that is emitted for the whole world. Therefore, the message is very universal.
The Olympics now belong to all mankind, regardless of religious background. The mandate carried by athletes when competing in the Olympic arena is no longer a religious mandate, but a national mandate to be the best, the strongest, and the fastest — while still prioritizing the values of togetherness, solidarity, and the spirit of humanity.
In this humanitarian context, there are at least two interesting things to note from the recent Tokyo Olympics. First, as we all know, this quadrennial sporting event should be held from July to August 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its implementation was postponed until 2021. Of course we also know that COVID-19 has not completely subsided. Some countries even show an increase in positive cases and deaths, but the Olympic games are still being held in the midst of a pandemic with very strict health protocols.
The Olympics’ opening ceremony was not held publicly in front of spectators. Only invited guests such as diplomats and members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can enter the stadium and witness the opening ceremony. The Olympic Opening Ceremony with the theme ‘United by Emotion’ is a really moving moment that touches every body’s hearts, even though we only watch it from afar. The spirit of togetherness and our unity as citizens of the world is really felt. In the midst of a difficult situation facing the global catastrophe of COVID-19, the Tokyo Olympics are trying to unite the world, sending messages that we can overcome the obstacles together. It's really poignant.
Second, the Tokyo Olympics present what is called the Refugee Olympic Team. They do not represent the country but represent the refugees. This year there are 29 athletes who become members of the Refugee Athlete Team from various countries such as Syria, Congo, South Sudan, Eritrea, Venezuela, Iran, Afghanistan, and Cameroon. Many organizations around the world donate funds to the refugees so they can get involved in sporting events. They believe that sport can be a means of world peace.
The refugees fled their country because of war, discrimination, hunger, and other reasons, but at the Olympics they were equally received by others with smiles and open arms. Their cries have been lived up to as a cry with the citizens of the world. The Olympics offer them a peaceful home. This sporting event seems to emphasize that all humans are equal, respect the same rules, and we are all here as a part of the world that belongs to each other.
The Olympics give many important messages to the citizens of the world that we are actually one. We compete to be the best with sportsmanship and humility. In the midst of the current pandemic disaster we need solidarity and togetherness. We help and strengthen each other, share research results, vaccines, medicines, and experiences.
We should convey our best regards and gratitude to this year’s Olympic organizers, in particular the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with its president, Thomas Bach, and of course its counterpart in Japan as the host, as well as the donors of funds for the Refugee Athlete Team (Refugee Olympic Team). We witness that what they are doing really means a lot to many of us in a world that is afflicted with misfortune, because they all manage to unite the emotions and togetherness of mankind. Hopefully sport and especially the Olympics, will continue to send messages of solidarity and peace to build a better world.