Going for the gold and for globalization

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Rachel Luquette, Contributing Writer

 

Following our Groundhog celebration is another celebration that has not only penetrated the Bubble, but captured the minds and hearts of people throughout the world.

The 22nd Winter Olympics begin on Thursday, Feb. 6 in Sochi, Russia. According to CNN correspondent Richard Allen Greene, this 17-day event is expected to bring together approximately 6,000 athletes from 85 countries to compete for the gold in 89 events and in front of over 3 billion people.

While the individual prowess of these world-class athletes is exciting and at times even awe-inspiring to observe, the existence of the Olympic competition itself is just as worthy of our attention, as it evidences the increasing globalization of our world.

Frank Lechner, a sociology professor at Emory University, maintains that most people tend to view globalization, “the process in which more people become more connected in more and different ways across larger distances,” in economic terms, forgetting that it permeates other areas of life, such as sports. The Olympics represent the epitome of globalization in the arena of sports. As an international sporting event viewed by a worldwide audience, it encourages the interconnectedness and the dissemination of national sports.

The Olympic Games, as every UD student should be aware, originated in ancient Greece in the seventh century B.C. The competition demonstrated the exceptional physical virtues of young athletes and promoted amicable relations between the various Greek city-states. Almost 1,500 years after Emperor Theodosius abolished them, France’s Pierre de Coubertin resurrected the Olympics by founding the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and reasserting the Olympics’ purpose of promoting peace and intercultural interaction. The Olympics still provide a friendly, if competitive, forum for such interactions and boost global connectivity.

This connectedness is evident in the very games of the Olympics. Fan favorites such as figure skating, hockey and bobsledding began in Holland, Canada and Switzerland respectively, yet are played by teams from around the world. Made famous by Walt Disney’s film “Cool Runnings,” the formation of the Jamaican bobsledding team in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics is an example of sports’ role in globalization. Without the surge in globalization after 1945 it is unlikely that athletes from a tropical country like Jamaica would have imagined touching snow, let alone competing in such a sport.

While Jamaican bobsledding is an extreme example, the fostering of nascent talent to engage in once-foreign games is seen in the United States, which was not itself the birthplace of figure or speed skating, but has produced gold medalists, such as Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski and Apollo Ohno, in both events. These athletes represent the diffusion and adoption of now-global sports.

Another sign of the extent of globalization is the popular reception of the Olympics. In its infancy, the modern Olympics met limited success due to a lack of international awareness of the competition.

130 years later, advances in communication technology have made the Winter Olympics an event viewed by over 3 billion people around the world. The television and Internet were and are essential to the development of and enthusiasm for the games.

In an interview with NPR on Jan. 20, Brian Steinberg noted that NBC Universal will broadcast approximately 1,500 hours of game coverage between the television and web. Virtually unlimited access to the games has propelled them to the forefront of people’s minds and has bridged gaps between nations by inspiring camaraderie by means of sports.

Many opponents to globalization argue that it homogenizes cultures, promotes Americanization or is ultimately reversible. While sports like cricket, which began in Great Britain, were once associated primarily with their developer, their origins do not prevent other countries from making them their own. India adopted cricket as its favorite sport and made it uniquely its own, discrediting the fear of cultural elimination. Although many equate globalization with Americanization in the sports arena, the United States’ international position of power failed to result in the global adoption of some of its most beloved sports: baseball and American football. This is clear in the IOC’s 2006 decision to remove baseball as an Olympic sport. Another criticism of globalization stems from its seeming reversibility, because two prior periods of globalization were reversed due to international instability and warfare. However, in sports it seems unlikely that standards and rules established by the IOC and other organizations will be discarded. Globalization in the form of the Olympics seems to make the world better.

So as you watch the games this week, spare a thought for the Olympics themselves and note how different your world looks in an age of globalization.

 

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