By Susan Lutz
Warming up to these 2016 Olympics took awhile. All the reports of the toxic water, Zika threats, and displacement of people from their homes made the Summer Olympics seem superfluous – an extra we might be able to live without or at the very least change?
But the games began. I’ve plopped in front of the television so many times over the years to watch the athletic phenoms, it felt odd to ignore it. The hype is hard to ignore. With kids, I grapple how we can understand what the tradition these games are, yet bring in a balance of the very real costs to the environment and world it can cause.
From the nightly news to social media, reporters highlight the trash in the water or the post a picture of the protests in the street. I want to cheer them on, stand up and do a fist pump when a swimmer gets another gold, and marvel over the mind-boggling gymnasts. Yet the images of cost both environmentally and socially linger in my consciousness while I watch. The hour broadcast delay also adds to the disconnection the larger powers have with the people who play and support the athletes.
Because it is about the athletes, the coming together of nations for a few weeks, in the hopes of putting down hostilities and instead playing some hoops (and all other games). As an athlete that competed at the collegiate and national level, I found inner strength, trained to break barriers (especially my own), and came together day after day with teammates for the purpose of a higher goal. That feeling in the gut, from throwing that pitch, making that shot, nailing that dive, or winning that sprint, those moments represent a long path of people working together and can translate to a deep connection to others. I see it when my son takes a shot in soccer or gets back out there after falling down – he’s rallied around, supported, and finds a strength to continue on. I truly believe these skills help him in his daily challenges.
Yet, we can’t play our games and shoot down others in the process. When the Olympics leave Rio, how will the country change? How will we change? What will happen to the neighborhood once the torch is extinguished? So many Olympic villages rode into town and left behind an empty land. What will we do differently before the next summer – and winter – Olympics return? Maybe it’s time to have one permanent spot for the Olympics. Or a guaranteed plan that the immense building that takes place due to the creation of the Olympic village has a useful, environmentally effective, re-purposed to move a city, state, and its people forward.
I’ve also lived in a country where the site of trash in the waters and along the road was tough to stomach, sometimes literally. Shaming a country from our the screens of our phones casts a quick judgment on the deep challenges a society faces from budget to resources to societal norms. We can embrace the change and ignite other nations by working at change in our homes and villages.
I’m still drawn in by the bottom line of the Olympics. I tell both stories to my children, the challenges and the successes, with the hopes of opening their awareness to the cause and effect we have on our world. I am not sure the world today is better or worse with the Olympics. The cost seems awfully high, but it won’t disappear in the next years. Cities will bid for the right to host until we all decide to change. The Olympics, like us all, are in a process of growth. What I hope is that looks to the future with an eye for making the world better for us all.