By Madeleine Orona Burgos
Every four years — or two, if you count the Winter Olympics — the world becomes enthralled with the athletic prowess of each nation. 206 countries took to the field to showcase the delegates from their country this year in Rio De Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games. While we cheered for Team USA from our couches and televisions, we forget about the sociopolitical atmosphere these athletes leave behind as they leave for Brazil.
Nationalism, by definition, is feeling pride in one’s country. However, the definition also extends further by saying that it can be marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.” The attitude of superiority can often become tied into the Olympic Games. The culture of each country shapes how their delegates interacted with one another. This can be seen when Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was defeated by Israeli judoka Or Sasson and refused to shake hands with him or bow, which, while a breach of judo etiquette, is a direct result of current disputes between Egypt and Israel. While we saw a misstep in etiquette, Israel and Egypt saw more. Egypt lashed out at Israel as well as El Shehaby, adding more subject matter to the long-standing history of shaky relations between Israel and Egypt. This begs the question: do these games create more unity as they are intended to, or are the relationships between each country too far torn apart to be mended by a common passion for athletics?
It is not only loss which threatens international relations, but the interactions of the athletes. For instance, while swimmer Ryan Lochte was a guest in the country of Brazil, he had no qualms with breaking down the door and vandalizing the inside of a bathroom at a Rio De Janeiro gas station. When he was questioned about it, he said he had been robbed at gunpoint. On video it seemed as though Lochte and his teammates were having a grand old time cavorting in the city, yet when they were caught they blamed the same city for not controlling its high crime rate and for being “robbed.” The immediate instinct to blame another for one’s own wrongdoing created yet another strain on Brazilian-American relations. This also shows that the governments of guest and host countries are not the only ones responsible for togetherness and community; the athletes must also do their part.
However, while there are many physical examples of tense international relationships, there was also a chance of hope to fix them. North and South Korea both competed in gymnastics, more specifically, the vault. In one of the most unexpected events, 17-year-old Lee Eun-ju, from South Korea, took a selfie with 27-year-old Hong Un Jong, from North Korea; they smiled, even when their countries have been at war for over 60 years. Ultimately, the takeaway is that, yes, these games have been tremendous in bringing nations together, but it must also be acknowledged that there are still some relations that cannot only be fixed by sport alone.