In spite of the protests over gay rights, threats of terrorism and complaints about the extravagant cost ($51 billion or the cost of all of the prior Olympic winter games combined), the Sochi Olympics will celebrate what is at the heart of the Olympic movement itself -- the capacity of the human spirit to transcend seemingly insurmountable physical and social barriers. The Olympic Games are and have always been a demonstration of how sports can elevate human achievement, foster a sense of friendship, and forge enduring bonds of friendship across national, ethnic and religious differences.
Although the Games involve a relatively small number (2,850 plus 1,650 Paralympians) of the most elite of athletes, an estimated 3 billion people worldwide will watch the games on television. Participants and spectators alike will share in the triumphs and disappointments of athletes, who have devoted their lives for these two and half weeks of competition. Together we will realize to a degree de Coubertin's dream of world peace based on a common love of sport and a common struggle for excellence.
As much as the games draw attention to what is most noble about human nature, they also reveal our inordinate preoccupation with the most successful athletes at expense of everyone else. Are the Games really worth the 51 billion dollars that it cost the struggling Russian people to host them at Sochi? Should the participating countries be spending billions of dollars to develop their best athletes, while leaving so many of their children mired in poverty with limited opportunities to play? Should the focus on the most elite of athletes distract us from the value that sport has for all? And finally, should we allow the virtues of hospitality and respect for human dignity, which are hallmarks of the Games, to be compromised by Russia's anti-gay legislation?
At the core of the Olympic Charter is the bold assertion: "The practice of sport is a human right." As we watch these Games and marvel at the achievements of Olympians in the most extravagant of sports venues, we should keep in mind that the few at the top of athletic pyramid stand on the shoulders those below. The games belong to all the people of the world, and the right to participate in sport is a universal one.
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