The biggest cheer of the evening at Rio2016 Opening Ceremony was for the team of refugees; the one team with no national flag – what mattered was not their nationality but their stories.
The Olympic vision seems more important than ever in a fragile and fractious world. Sports men and women from all over the world come together to take part. For a few weeks the divisions and disputes between nations are put aside and the best in their field compete on equal terms. All that matters is sport; politics ceases to matter – and there really is something for everyone.
The Olympics is my kind of sporting event – a range of sports I would never usually watch have me hooked. Part of the fascination is discovering sports I have never watched before.
But the one thing that has me reaching for the remote is the raising of the flags and the playing of the national anthems. Awarding medals is fine but what matters is that you are best in your sport not which country you come from. It is the individual’s story that fascinates not their national fervour.
For these few weeks men and women come together under the Olympic flag. All national flags should be laid aside at the stadium doors. Here people compete as equals, members of the one global village. Sporting prowess is enough. The nationalism adds another dimension which is unhelpful, divisive and detracts from the sporting achievement. The lap of honour is for your achievement not the national flag you feel compelled to wear. Celebrate not with your national team mates but with your fellow competitors. All too soon this four yearly sporting festival will be over so don’t spend time with the national squad but build friendships with those from other countries. It is these friendships that matter; the forging of such bonds is the reason for the Olympics – it is what makes the huge price tag worth it.
The legacy we need from each Olympics is not how many medals this or that country won, but the bonds of friendship forged which overcome national boundaries and which in some small way make the world a friendly, safer place. We need the Olympics to show there is another way for the world to relate to one another – we don’t need it to be an excuse for national ego-trips. Bring on the sport and forget the flags.
Remember the biggest cheer was for the team that had no flag.