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8 September 2021
Seeing our best selves beyond the sports arena
Words Belinda Cassie
I don’t do sports. But, I’ve found this Olympics season compelling in ways like no other.
It started just before the Tokyo Games, at the European Championships, when the European Handball Federation fined Norway’s women’s beach handball team after the players wore shorts, instead of the required bikini bottoms, during a weekend game. These women had defied the archaic misogynistic rule book and made uniform choices to desexualise their image and their sport. And P!nk, the world-famous American singer and songwriter, is paying the fines.
During the Games, world-class athletes on the winners’ podium often put their medals around each other’s necks – a moment significantly more meaningful than a medal being placed by some dude in a suit they’d never met (and I’ve never heard of).
American artistic gymnast Simone Biles stepped aside from the final of the team event and the individual all-around competition, openly sharing her mental health concerns. Yes, there were some negative responses, but overwhelmingly she was applauded and supported for choosing herself over a competition.
At the pool, an Aussie girl from Caboolture ‘stole the show’ by swearing in the most Aussie way. And an Aussie coach also stole the show by celebrating in the most ‘bogan’ Aussie way. Then a New Zealand women’s rugby champion stole the show by being the happiest interviewee ever.
Then, at the high jump, two athletes from Italy and Qatar stole the show with a handshake, a hug and an exuberant celebration when they decided to share the gold medal instead of duelling it out in a jump-off. A couple of countries stole the show when they won their first-ever gold medals – and it was a woman who won the medal in both cases. The whole world, it seems, went crazy with joy over it. And I don’t think that a single one of them minded that somebody else stole the show.
This Olympics has been very different, I think. We’ve seen sportsmanship in the past, we’ve witnessed joyful celebrations, we’ve watched moments of courage and determination, we’ve been awed by stunning wins, we’ve relished endearing moments. But this time, it all seems different. Magnified, perhaps.
Perhaps as the world continues to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps as so many have been forced to face their mortality, perhaps as we’ve been so separated for so long with no concrete idea of when international borders might be open again, perhaps as we’ve seen so much of the worst of humanity over the last 18 months we crave seeing us at our best.
Not necessarily our best from a sports point of view. But our best sportsmanship. Our kindest selves. Our funniest selves. Our warmest selves.
As much as I don’t do the sports bit, I have always appreciated the opening ceremony. I love seeing the traditional dress of the host country. I like seeing what each visiting country comes up with for their team uniforms, too. But I think there was a different uniform of sorts this year.
Paul, who in the Bible wrote a letter to the church in Colossae, had this to say to the Christians in that city, “put on then … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience … and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians chapter 3, verses12-14 (English Standard Version).
I think that’s what made this Olympics stand out. It wasn’t an official uniform choice – and, being a Salvo, I kind of know a bit about uniform choices, but I think the unofficial uniform of this Olympics mirrored Paul’s advice to the church in Colossae.
I think we saw many athletes, coaches and spectators alike choosing to wear compassion, kindness, patience and yes, even love – so our best selves really, in an era where we need it more than ever.
Captain Belinda Cassie is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Tasmania.