Asia will capture the attention of the world in the next few months. Starting in Tokyo, Japan, in late July and continuing in Beijing, China, in February 2022, the Olympic and Paralympic Summer and Winter Games will gather top athletes from nations around the world and bring unforgettable, emotional moments to the international community.
The Beijing 2022 Games, however, have not avoided politicization. Calls for boycotts have been made in the West, including by the European Parliament.
It is not the first time politics has overshadowed sports. In the last decade of the Cold War, U.S.-Soviet rivalry led to the U.S. boycott of the Moscow 1980 Olympics. Four years later, the Soviet Union took tit-for-tat measures and boycotted the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games.
Sadly, both the Moscow and the Los Angeles Olympics are better remembered for power politics rather than for the performance and records of fantastic sportspeople.
It is impossible to understand the true spirit of Olympism without referring to the history of Greece. The first Olympic Games took place in 776 B.C. in the Greek city of Olympia. The ancient Olympics lasted until 393 and were connected to the so-called Olympic truce. This meant that all conflicts had to cease for an agreed period of a few days or weeks in order for athletes, artists, and spectators to safely travel. The sacred truce was a necessary prerequisite for the organization of the games and was inscribed in the Disc of Iphitos by the King of Elis city state.
The Greeks passionately loved sports, perhaps more than others in the ancient world, and excellence, friendship and respect were the values of Olympism. This historical tradition was revived in 1896 when the modern version of the Olympic Games was inaugurated.
Greece and China both value history. An analysis of their partnership in the 21st century shows the two countries came closer cooperating on the Olympic Games. Athens hosted the Olympics in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. In 2005, Greece and China established a special committee on the preparation of the Beijing 2008 Games.
Beijing will soon become the first city in the world to host both the Olympic and Paralymic Summer and Winter Games. A few days ago, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis accepted the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend Beijing 2022. The announcement is important symbolic support to China by the country that gave birth to the Olympic Games.
Political disagreements between the West and China are nothing new. They pass through several stages and can lead to antagonism and tensions. Olympism has nothing to do with these disagreements. The ancient Greek tradition will not pause in imparting its time-honored values. It will also inspire Beijing 2022 and reaffirm our shared humanity and commitment to peace and diversity.