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The Olympics and the Spirit of Sport

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The Olympics opens formally today. Unfortunately despite such a happy event, the news of recent weeks has been fraught with drama and ongoing crises. Between the bloody oppression of the Syrian regime, the killing spree in Colorado, and the never-ending economic problems in Europe, people from all around the world need the break, the brief respite, which the Olympics represent.

More than ever in 2012, the Olympic dream brings together people from around the world. Its positive values of hard work, fair play, excellence and team spirit foster a communion that transcends borders, cultures and ethnicity -- values to unite us in these troubled times.

What denominator other than sport has such power in a world where divisions (whether religious, cultural, economic or political) almost always take the lead over other considerations? Sport allows us to engage in dialogue and to build bridges, and it may even have the capacity to reshape international relations. The Olympic Games embody perfectly this universal mission.

The symbolic significance of individual athletes' achievements has sometimes proved more productive than the negotiations of diplomats or politicians. Irish rugby players did not wait for the peace process to wear the same jersey in the field; and German footballers succeeded (by playing for the World Cup at the same time) in reuniting their country before the political process brought it formally about. During a wonderful African Cup of Nations in January of this year, Africa forgot its divisions.

These examples illustrate the mission of achieving unity that is implicit and inherent in sports. This mission is all the more necessary today because of the fragmentation of our societies. Sport is one of the few spaces where people can learn about different cultures in a spirit of trust and friendship.

Sport is and should remain a great school of life that supports young people in their personal development. It teaches respect for others and also for oneself.

But beyond the values and benefits of sport, a sense predominates on the eve of the Olympics opening -- no matter what age you happen to be -- of the intoxicating Olympic dream and its magic. The Olympics creates a universal feeling of excitement, offering the world a moment of enchantment around passions and shared dreams.

It was armed with this knowledge that early in 2012 I created, in partnership with the Qatar authorities, the Doha GOALS Forum, an innovative platform leading the way in global reflection on social issues and sport. For the first time, we posed and addressed questions about sport's economic, political, pedagogical and diplomatic roles.

The action-oriented platform of the Doha GOALS Forum will shortly launch a number of initiatives under the aegis of an NGO. Already hundreds of college and high school students are involved in its projects. The Doha GOALS Forum is showing -- as, I believe the London Olympics 2012 will also reveal -- the true capacity of sports and athletics to make a difference in all of our lives.