I am a fan of the Olympic ideal. I see that ideal as this: once every four years, countries suspend their political, military, religious and cultural disputes for a couple of weeks, and instead send their own choice of athletes to compete against one another celebrating our common human excellence. Here are some implications of this idealistic concept:
- I believe that during the Olympics there should be a military truce for all participants – any countries violating the Olympic truce* should be suspended from being invited to the Olympics for several games thereafter. Sometimes the Olympic truce will fall at a moment of convenience for one side or another in a war. Tough.
- There should never be any political boycotts of the Olympics. Attendance at the Olympics in no way suggests that we approve of the regimes of other countries attending. If a country boycotts the Olympics on political grounds it should not be invited back for several games. The Olympics is not a championship of the world, and doesn't need to include all the countries of the world if they don't want to abide by the rules and the spirit. It's the Olympics.
- It's up to the countries attending whom they send. If Saudi Arabia wants to send no women, that's its business. If the government of a racist country wants to send athletes of only one race, that's its business. If some country wants to send only Muslims or only Catholics that's its business. If some country wants to send athletes that were seized from their mothers and trained from birth, that's its business.
None of this means that all sporting activities should be free from political involvement or rulings against racism or sexism. At World Championships and test matches and international meets of all sorts we can have rules excluding the competitors of ill-behaved countries. But not at the Olympics. For that brief period we set aside all our complaints and concerns about how other countries do things and simply engage with them precisely as they are.
I believe that, although idealistic, this concept of an Olympics would be politically feasible if a few key countries took the lead in promoting it. Sporting-based truces have been sustained even in modern warfare (e.g. the famous Christmas day football matches in the World War One trenches). It would also be desirable – that, just for a couple of weeks every four years, we set aside all our differences and celebrate human physical excellence, self-discipline, commitment, and the will to win. These are by no means all of human virtue. But they are virtues almost all of humanity can agree upon, share, and exalt.