The Olympics, Nationalism, and You

As the televisions of America tune in to the Olympic Games, many of us
are awe-inspired by the amazing displays of athletic excellence. I
find it amusing that we sit on our couches in stagnation to appreciate
these feats of human’s peak performance. That particular irony aside,
I have been pondering one aspect of the Olympic Games lately:
I listened to an NPR program earlier this week that mentioned the
positive and negative effects of nationalism in the Olympics. One
speaker talked about his pessimism toward the Olympic Games, saying
that nationalism is a “poison” and the games were merely a stage for
politics, while other more hopeful speakers said that pride for one’s
country is essentially good. While they can be overtly political, the
Olympic Games do more than just provide a stage for political
competition. They provide an international stage for countries to
showcase their athletic elite.
Nationalism, in its milder form, can be considered warm or
affectionate feelings toward ones country, or feelings of loyalty,
pride, and patriotism toward one’s country. What’s the harm in that?
These are good things to feel. One ought to be devoted to their
country, as we are to be subject to our authorities, and be good
neighbors to one another. In this world, a small dose of nationalism
is almost essential to be a citizen of any nation. A lack of any
nationalism whatsoever breeds cynicism, causing one do become bitter
and hopeless, but perhaps the biggest problem is when nationalism
becomes more extreme than is appropriate.
A more extreme form of nationalism might agree with all of the tenets
of the milder version, but also add that our nation/nationality is
superior to all others. This is crossing over into “ethnocentrism,” a
term that all CIU students ought to be familiar with from studies in
Intro to World Missions. The elevation of one nation or nationality
above all others belittles other nations and nationalities, creating a
false sense of pride and superiority in the nationalist’s mind. This
arrogance is contrary to Christ’s example of servant hood, and must be
Does this nationalism get in the way of appreciating great displays of
athletic prowess? I greatly admire Olympic Athletes, but I also pity
them. I feel that they are often overlooked individually, for the sake
of their country. We look to see how many medals the USA has won this
week, but we often don’t bother to appreciate the individual athletes
who have sacrificed so much to win them. The athletes have become
under appreciated because of a sort of nationalistic over-emphasis on
the country of origin. Also, we might dismiss the talent of an athlete
from, say, Russia or China because they are not American. This is a
prime example of extreme nationalism blinding us to the extraordinary
talent and hard work of all of the athletes competing.
Perhaps even more troubling is what happens in our hearts during the
Olympics. Do the Olympic Games instill and kindle an extreme
nationalism in us? Do we think ourselves a superior nation and a
better nationality every time we watch our athletes win? I’m not
saying that we always do, but the Olympics have been cited as such a
stage for borderline racism in the past.
I love watching the Olympics, and I am proud of America. I am proud of
our athletes, and I would rather an American win than any other
competitor in any given event. However, I am trying to be careful to
appreciate the efforts of all involved, no matter what nation they
might hail from.
Grace and Peace,
Jacob Given

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