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Ancient Greece is remembered for a whole lot of things and the Olympiads or the Olympic games in ordinary parlance, are just one amongst many. In ancient Greece the Olympic games were held between athletes of city-states and continued, willy-nilly for about a millennium (776 BC–393 AD.) These events, which were held every four years, also had religious significance. During these events, ritual sacrifices (human virgins, etc,) were offered to the gods, mostly to Zeus, the king of all the Greek gods whose temple/sanctuary was at Olympus. The Olympiads were so revered even active conflicts amongst feuding city-states were suspended until the games were over. In contrast, modernity uses such an occasion to sneak in a new war knowing that a significant portion of humanity will be glued to the stupid box watching the grand event. Recall the war that broke out during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympiad in 2008 (Georgia vs South Ossetia.)
After Theodosius I, the Christian emperor of the mighty Roman Empire, abolished the Olympiads (circa 393 AD) along with their associated pagan worshipping; the world of athletics, (including other sportive activities) was left on barren fields for about a millennium and a half, until it was resuscitated by modernity just over a century ago. In 1894 French Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and the rest, as they say, is history. To be fair, some countries like modern Greece, France and the UK had their own forerunners of the Olympics games, long before the internationalization of the games by IOC. Naturally the modern Olympics are substantially different from those held in ancient Greece. For a start, we now have 33 different sports as opposed to the seven original ones. In ancient Greece the games lasted for four days and the competitions were only in boxing, chariot/horse racing, wrestling, running (5000mt, 400mt, 400mt in armor, 200mt) and the (classic) pentathlon (long jump, discus/javelin throw, stadion- a short foot race, wrestling) and pankration (a mix of boxing and wrestling.)
Like many other institutions that were founded on a colonized and polarized world of the 19th century, the IOC had to be forced to change its old ways. Even today there are a lot of issues that must be worked out if IOC wants to silence its well-meaning critiques. Here is one to which we add our voice. We admit the women’s marathon was inducted as an Olympic sport only in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games, but we think it is time to bring it at par with its male counterpart. For example, the medal awarding ceremony for the winners of the women’s marathon must be held on the closing day and must also be given to the wining athletes by the head of the IOC, just like that of the men’s; after all these women also completed the same grueling 42.2 kms, just like their fellow men!
Traditional discrimination along the lines of the ‘Nazi Olympics’ (see the article on page 50) might not be operating out in the open today, but there are certainly salient discriminatory practices that still find themselves behind the façade of the IOC and its traditional macho culture. One of Coubertin’s initial ambitions was to avail/inspire the French military with physically fit young men, destined for wars. Here is another example that illustrates IOC’s archaic setup. IOC’s executive board has fifteen members, out of which only two are women. Since women number about half of the current Olympians, to say nothing about the world, the composition of the executive board, we believe, must also reflect this reality.
Additionally, the IOC must be vigilant in holding its ground when it comes to the politicization/commercialization of the Olympic games. We shouldn’t forget that politicos/corporations would do anything and everything in their power to have their ways, even if it means going against the principles and spirit of the Olympic games. At one time (the Cold War) boycotting the Olympics became a political ploy, which threatened the future of the Olympiads! See the article next column. As a result of such decisions by passing politicos, many a young woman had to miss her chance of a lifetime. For example Ethiopia (along with its allies) boycotted the Montreal (1976), Los Angeles (1984) and Seoul (1988) Olympics on political grounds; that translates to three Olympics in twelve years!
Nothing that is worth something comes easy. Enlightened women of our days must fight tooth and nail for their deserved rights, be it within the confines of the IOC or the world at large. The famous writer once mused, albeit sarcastically, about men’s silly insecurities, camouflaged as considered reservations: “The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.” Virginia Woolf.Good Day!