10 Aug 2012

Olympics and the Blurring of National Identity

By Matt Train

Stood in a DIY shop on Sunday afternoon I received a phone call from a friend who had a spare ticket to the beach volleyball at the London Olympics. I jumped at the chance to go along and experience the atmosphere, and was really excited to have had the chance as I know so many of my friends and colleagues have missed out on tickets.

After watching the USA vs Switzerland men’s match I searched online to find out information about the players for each side, and when I read about them it got me thinking more generally about globalism and how that affects things like the Olympics.

On the Swiss team was Jefferson Bellaguarda, a Brazilian who was born in Salvador, Bahia. After marrying a “lovely Swiss lady”, as the Glaswegian announcer put it, he now competes for Switzerland.

On the US team, Phil Dalhausser, “The Thin Beast”, was himself born in Switzerland to a German father and Swiss mother. His team-mate Todd Rogers has a more “consistent” background being from California, born to Californian parents. But even his family doesn’t escape the international bug – his Wikipedia page reports that his brother is the CEO of a medium-size language school chain – in Japan.

Then on Monday 30th July there was the phenomenal performance from 15 year old Lithuanian swimmer, Ruta Meilutyte, who won the gold medal, Lithuania’s first ever swimming medal, and set a new European record for the 100 metres breaststroke, swimming the fastest time in the world this year. She lives in Plymouth, in the South of England, and goes to Plymouth College.

The more you look, the more examples you find; the table tennis player Chen Weixing, originally from China, but competing for Austria, slalom kayaker Jessica Fox whose mother is French, but who participates under the Australian flag, Hannah Wilson who renounced her British passport in order to swim for Hong Kong, etc.

There are practical reasons for these examples; geographical limitations, personal and family heritage, the desire to work with the best coaches, qualifying reasons, and even love, as in the case of Bellaguarda.

Pierre de Coubertin expressed his original vision:

The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

As people move the world ever more freely and nationality begins to blur, the Olympics veers away from being a tribal competition of flag waving, towards becoming a unique celebration of all of humanity through sport. Coubertin’s vision is becoming clearer.



 
 

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