Food For Thought: The Winter Olympics and Globalization

As the Sochi Olympics kick off this weekend, we at 4N Policy Now would like to take the opportunity to examine the way that the Winter Olympics have affected globalization. Historically, the Olympics were a time when all of the states of ancient Greece would stop war, and gather for athletic competition. We no longer pause our wars, or seek to end thoughts of violence against one another during the Olympic Games, but we do stop and look at countries, not for their power, but for their individuals. We admire the talents of driven athletes from across the face of the earth, and take national pride not in the size of our army, or the quality of our infrastructure, but in the spirit of our country’s athletes and their ambition, dedication, drive, and all else that is good and true about the human spirit.

What’s more intriguing about the Olympic Games – they are one thing that the entire world can agree on. Every nation can agree on a set standard of rules and practices that apply to each of the events, as well as the dates, times and location of all competitions and ceremonies. The Olympic Games offer the common people of a nation to communicate, compete, and challenge one another, in the aspects of life that matter most to them, such as sportsmanship, health, teamwork, accountability, and effort. It is a chance to showcase one’s own nationalism for the better. To take pride in what our people, not our government can accomplish.

In some instances countries did use the Winter Olympic Games to compete with one another. Most are familiar with the 1980 winter Olympics in Lake Placid and what has been dubbed the “Miracle on Ice” during one of the heights of the Cold War, the United States defeated the Soviet Union, not militarily but athletically, in a hockey game that showcased the best of what both teams had to offer as well as what both countries had to offer in terms of national pride and identity. For the United States, the “Miracle on Ice” was one of many victories that encompassed the Cold War. But it was a victory among the people, not the governments.

In a sense, the Olympics of the past were ahead of their time, during the twentieth century, while the rest of the world was engaged in what Thomas Friedman called “Globalization 2.0” in his 2005 New York Times Article “It’s a Flat World After All”. The athletes of the Olympic Games were already engaging in Globalization 3.0. For those unfamiliar with Friedman’s theory, in short, Globalization 2.0 involved the movement of companies and corporations toward multinational interactions, while Globalization 3.0 involves the movement and cooperation of individuals with those of other nations. For most of us, Globalization 3.0 did not come into effect until the wide spread of technology made it extremely easy to communicate with people of other nations on a regular basis about every day issues, controversies and commonalities. The explosion of media in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, created what Friedman referred to as a global “flatness” or an equalizer among peoples. While Freidman’s ideas are highly debated within the International Relations community, there is no doubt that people across the world are becoming more and more intertwined with one another on a personal, rather than a cooperate or governmental level, especially with Facebook celebrating its 10th anniversary earlier this week.

But long before Globalization 3.0 began to reach everyday members of society, Olympic athletes were already taking part. When the Winter Olympics first began in France in 1924, the athletes interacted one on one with each other, sharing stories and creating memories of personal triumphs for some and failure for others. They were representatives of their respective countries, but moreover they represented themselves and what it took them to reach such a level of skill and competition. They were sportsman like respectful to one another. Their athletic accomplishments allowed them to communicate across a language barrier, using actions over words.

The twentieth century was a time of great social change. Through spectacles ranging from the Civil Rights movement to the destruction of the Berlin Wall, we learned that actions do, in fact, speak louder than words. And as we follow the Olympic athletes into Globalization 3.0, we should keep their actions of sportsmanship and respect as models for our own lives and interactions with others.


4N Policy Now is a non- partisan, non-biased organization. All of the views expressed in the content published on this site are the sole opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 4N Policy Now.


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