In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
The 2008 Olympic Games, if approached prudently, are a potential catalyst for peace and the promotion of human rights. Over the past few months, protestors have attempted to leverage the upcoming Beijing Games to raise awareness around human rights atrocities in China, Tibet, and the Sudan. In recent days, these protests have reached a new extreme as activists disrupted the torch lighting ceremony and have made numerous attempts to extinguish the Olympic flame in protest.
Sport in Society regards these attempts to extinguish the flame as short sighted on the part of protestors. The Olympic Torch Relay, which reaches the shores of every continent, offers the opportunity to spark an international dialogue about human rights. Because of its symbolic meaning in relation to the Games, this beacon of the Olympic Movement can lead the international community to further understand how peace can be achieved through cooperation and a shared dedication to humanistic ideals. Conversely, the violent responses toward the torch bearers cannot achieve lasting change and stand in opposition to any party's conception of peace and dignity.
The Olympic Games have an unarguably strong relation to world affairs. They command a worldwide audience captivated by athletic prowess and national pride. Here lies the opportunity to educate an enormous number of viewers to the state of the international community. It is important, however, that violent protests do not overshadow the power of sport and the achievement of international cooperation exemplified at the Games. A careful balance must be struck; although we should support athletes and leaders who wish to leverage the Games as an internationally watched forum, eclipsing the athletic competition will do more to turn viewers from the cause than to bring them into the discussion. Athletes, activists, organizers, sponsors, etc. each have the right to their own beliefs, but a productive dialogue requires that each group must come together in healthy conflict, just as athletes do on the field. All players should have the chance to meet face to face, using the occasion to peacefully develop meaningful action steps that will promote human rights for all. The symbolic relay will culminate at the Olympic Games in Beijing, where the world's most talented and dedicated athletes prove that sport can serve the harmonious development of humankind. Rather than extinguishing the flame, let it light the path to peace.