The Olympic Games are about numbers, about scores, about times and distances and of targets and precision. What would make more sense than to suggest that those who benefit from the Olympics this summer, from athletes to ticket holders, from TV viewers to sponsors, from journalists to athletic uniform and shoe manufacturers find something to share with the people in need in Sichuan Province?
Bill Dwyre, sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, recently wrote a piece that he described as "conflicted." He puzzled over the absence of conversations about proceeding with (or cancelling) the Beijing Olympics in a country where more than 70,000 people died in the May 12 earthquake and millions lost their homes. Destruction from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake still demands the attention of the world and surely cries out for resources.
The games won't be cancelled and "perhaps the spirit of a great and successful Beijing Olympics will, indeed, boost the spirits of Chinese people everywhere," he wrote, except in parts of Sichuan province where news is not likely to arrive unless electricity has been widely restored by August.
Of course Dwyre wrestled with reasons. As a veteran observer of the Olympics, he is not naïve. Someone had to puzzle over China's decision to proceed with the Games. Most Olympics-related stories now leading up to Beijing avoid the earthquake angle. Sichuan is 1,000 miles away from the venues. Dwyre did not take a pass on trying to start the conversation. The lonely idea has lingered with me:
Couldn't the thousands of talented and privileged athletes do something to convey a message of compassion to their host country?
Wouldn't the leadership of these strong men and women bring the world a little closer together? Isn't it likely that the work of rebuilding will be far from finished even after the 2008 Olympics are over? Will we forget Sichuan by September?
The official Beijing Olympics Website reports many donations made in public ceremonies by Chinese Olympians to help the relief work in the quake-hit region. When all the Chinese national team athletes came together in mid May, they donated 500,000 Yuan, about $71,500 in U.S. dollars. Other gifts of hundreds of thousands of Yuan were donated by players from different sports.
Chinese staff members from the operations center planning the opening and closing ceremonies gave. Torchbearers donated.
Late in June, the 4th Beijing International Sports Film Festival, screened 45 movies -- 23 produced in China. At the event's launch, actors placed cards on a special "wish tree" for quake victims.
In early July, Zheng Jie, a tennis player who reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and played well at the French Open, pledged to give part of her winnings to quake relief. Twenty-four-year-old Zheng is from Sichuan.
Certainly athletes around the world are swept up in their trials to make the trip and are focused on their personal training. But doing something simple for the devastated masses in Sichuan Province would bring new meaning to the Olympic motto, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" which means Swifter, Higher, Stronger.
Maybe many besides the Chinese athletes have already given to relief agencies. Others not yet in China, though, still have the opportunity. Within a short time after the earthquake hit, Chinese Olympics officials placed five donation boxes around The Bird's Nest, the National Stadium.
Remember the concept of tithing? While its primary meaning was that of giving one-tenth of the annual produce of one's land to the church or clergy, its second definition is "a tenth part or any small part."
A 2008 Summer Olympics' Sichuan Fund could grow from millions of small gifts (a dollar or Yuan, rubles or pounds) for every minute of a swimmer's competitive time or a donation for even 1% of the price of a plane ticket to Beijing).
The Olympians will surely run faster and jump higher but who could be stronger or braver than the families, parents who lost their only child and orphans whose lives were rocked by the May 12 earthquake?
Disclosure: Bill Dwyre is my brother.
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