Ethics and the Olympics
August 13, 2012
Sebastian Shakespeare of the London Evening Standard wrote in his article entitled The Olympics should be no place for ethics: “If we must have the Olympics, let them be fun, not fettered with high-minded ethical considerations.”
I profoundly disagree. Ethics has its place in the Olympics as in any human enterprise, even more so with one of this magnitude.
The International Olympic Committee has its own Code of Ethics that addresses issues of dignity, integrity, good governance and confidentiality. The ethical issues involving the games are many such as bribery-corruption, sponsors lack of corporate social responsibility, the consumption of illegal performance enhancing drugs, and cheating.
The games also illustrate some fundamental values at play that can also be applied in our professional and private lives.
Let me list a few:
Fairness, obviously, is one of the fundamental values in sports. A sports event such as the Olympics is an amazing affirmation that one can compete in fairness, abide by the rules and yet win. Good guys (gals) CAN finish first!
Courage and Perseverance:
The dedication, efforts and sacrifice required to reach the goal of an Olympic medal is astonishing, particularly when you consider the number of years it usually takes for athletes to reach world-record levels. Kayla Harrison, who won the first gold medal in judo for the United States, had some traumatic obstacles to overcome. The 22-year old athlete had been sexually abused from the ages of 13 to 16 by her then coach. (He now serves a 10 year jail sentence and has been banned from the sport for life.) Mrs. Harrison said: “It is no secret that I was sexually abused by my former coach, and that was definitely the hardest thing I have ever had to overcome.”
Pride and Honor:
We should be proud of who we are and also of our individual accomplishment. Lopez Lomong, a member of the U.S. 2012 Olympic team, competing in the 5000-meter event says: “The Olympics is the ultimate show of national pride and identity.” Mr. Lomong was a Sudanese refugee in Kenya and became an American citizen in 2007. He says: “I had been accepted into a country that I was proud of and, for the first time in my life, I had an identity. I am honored to be an ambassador for the United States as I travel to compete with the world’s greatest athletes and bring home Gold.”
The games are also a demonstration that teamwork can bring the best results whether the team is composed of the athlete and the coach or of an Olympic sports team or even of a national Olympic committee. None of the athletes would have been able to succeed with the outstanding performances we have witnessed had it not been for the collaboration of so many who worked behind the scenes. That is true for all of “our” accomplishments. We never could have achieved them without the help of many.
As the author of the Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery once wrote:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”