Skieologians: The Applied Sport Theology Column
The seminal Olympic moment for many starts in the family room, gathered around a television, awestruck by the parade of nations which opens every Games. It’s the “there she is, Miss America,” moment for dedicated athletes who have committed their entire lives to a singular pursuit. The grand spectacle of the opening ceremonies is the supreme visual representation of the ultimate athletic dream coming to fruition. It moves the dreamers staring into screens on the other side of the globe as a burgeoning urge to replicate their heroes’ journey wells up in their gut.
Those tuned into the Beijing Olympic opening ceremonies early Friday morning, however, felt something else. Cloaked in masks that neutralized every joyful countenance and dulled the unique, heroic stories behind the individual faces, made universal by their coverings, viewers couldn’t help but watch apathetically as the Americans presented themselves. None of the 16 Vail athletes we can claim could be spotted, even by a parent.
If you think this an acceptable “new normal,” scan social media and breathe in China’s draconian COVID regulations. The cafeteria claws, hazmat suits, and forced isolation measures are beyond dystopian. Simen Kruger is the first gold medal favorite to be asymptomatically eliminated from defending his 2018 title. Anecdotally, I have lost track of the number of athletes I’ve personally interviewed recently who have told me qualifying for the Games was nothing compared to the stress of not getting COVID in the days approaching their departure.
Masks have taken on all sorts of political connotations even in America, but on Friday night, there was a different metaphor they distinctly represented: the “thin veil of a so called political neutrality,” as Aspen native and SSCV alumna Noah Hoffman penned two days ago in a piece for the Daily Mail.
Hoffman recently came on the Seder-Skier podcast and spoke at length to the Vail Daily on the documented human rights abuses, the IOC’s kowtowing to the Chinese government, and the general lack of accountability in sport governing bodies. His Daily Mail op-ed further emphasized the blatant propaganda and unacceptable current state of affairs.
“The behind-the-scenes truth of these Olympics games — as it has been for decades — is that ‘political neutrality’ is an excuse for the IOC and its’ U.S. sponsors to pursue power and profit at the expense of athletes,” he writes.
“Only this year, the blatant corruption of the Olympic Games is all the more obvious because the IOC is colluding with one of the most oppressive regimes on Earth.”
At the ceremonies, Cai Qi, who is both President of the Beijing Organizing Committee and the Secretary of the Communist Party (no issue there, right?) stated that the Olympic movement is “about standing together, about bridging differences, about promoting inclusiveness and understanding.”
He continued, “Let us work together to add a new chapter to building a community with a shared future for mankind.”
What does that “shared future” look like for the Uyghur Muslims in China?
“Under the strong leadership of the Chinese government, we have remained committed to a green, inclusive, open and clean approach to preparing and hosting the Games,” he stated.
Professor of geography at the University of Strasbourg, Carmen de Jong told The Guardian, “This could be the least sustainable winter games ever. These mountains have practically no natural snow.”
When the IOC went to evaluate Beijing as a candidate city in 2015, they noted the lack of natural snow — an average January produces four mm compared 70 mm in Lillehammer. The organizing committee simply claimed the opposite.
The IOC has promised to punish athletes who speak up at these Games. Hoffman writes, “The IOC claims this rule is in place to protect athletes from a politicized Olympics. In reality, the rule silences athletes so that administrators can choose which political actors to favor.”
Hoffman highlights a philosophical dilemma that presuppositional apologist Greg Bahnsen, the father of top Forbes financial advisor David Bahnsen, articulated long ago: the myth of neutrality.
“You will show how the world could look like if we all respect the same rules and each other,” IOC President Thomas Bach declared to blankly staring athletes — “silenced by fear,” as Hoffman wrote — in the fanless stadium Friday night.
Whenever an individual, ruler, or government makes any claim, discerning fellows ought to ask, “By what standard? Who’s ‘rules’ and why?”
Perhaps the romanticized dream of competing in harmony and gleefully strolling through a stadium in front of billions of viewers is too good to be true. Perhaps it was always a masquerade.