January 3, 2010

Football or Death in Afghanistan?

The ethnologist, Konrad Lorenz, suggested that sports involved displacing destructive energy into more civilized activities. Football is easily identified as a war game with two opposing armies lined up in a field to do battle. Tackling replaces killing. Skill, speed and brute strength are prerequisites for success.

You might recognize that athletes are healthy, skillful humans who transform destructive human tendencies in more constructive endeavors. Sporting events have become very popular. The most successful athletes are highly paid and praised. Of all the events that inspire hope for a more peaceful world, the Olympic Games are near the top.

The Olympic Games

Olympic Games originated in Greece and were held from about 770 BC until AD 393. Stories of the original Olympics are partly history and partly myth. One story suggests that Heracles built the Olympic stadium to honor Zeus. The Greek Gods lived on Mount Olympus. Heracles, a mortal hero, became a god when he died. The goddess Hebe became his wife and they lived in a palace on Olympus. The Olympics involved athletics, sacrifices and ceremonies honoring Zeus and Pelops, king of Olympia. Winners of the athletic events were immortalized in poems and statues.

The games ended after the Roman Emperor, Theodosius I, proclaimed Christianity the religion of the Empire. The Olympic Games were outlawed as a pagan festival.

Rational humanism emerged about 2500 years ago in three manifestations – the Buddha in India, Confucius in China, and the poets and philosophers who emerged in the Greek civilization that shaped the culture of Rome and then Europe and then the colonies in the Americas.

You could argue that the Olympic Games were one of the strong expressions of humanistic philosophy which celebrated the best aspects of humanity. Athletes were young, healthy and beautiful. Athletic events replaced wars. Physical prowess could be expressed in a benign fashion by athletes or in a terrible, destructive fury by warriors. This choice remains with us today.

The Olympic Games were revived in Greece in 1859. An International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded in 1894 and since then participation in the games involves over 200 countries. The 2008 summer games in Beijing had 302 events in 28 sports with 202 participating countries. China has emerged from seclusion and secrecy with a marvelous display of its history, its skills and aesthetic ability. Giselle Davis, the IOC Director of Communications stated that the Chinese Opening Ceremonies were the most fantastic she had ever witnessed…"one that we will remember for the rest of our lives."

Bono, who became famous as the lead singer of the band U2, and later became a roving ambassador for humanitarian sanity identified soccer as a good alternative to civil war and killing: He stated in his 2010 new year list of good ideas to solve all the trouble in the world:" It’s getting easier to describe to Americans the impact of the World Cup — especially the impact it will have in Africa, where the tournament is to be held this summer. A few years ago, Ivory Coast was splitting apart and in the midst of civil war when its national team qualified for the 2006 jamboree. The response was so ecstatic that the war was largely put on hold as something more important than deathly combat took place, i.e. a soccer match. The team became a symbol of how the different tribes could — and did — get on after the tournament was over. "

Read more in Group Dynamics by Stephen Gislason

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