Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympians and Other Heroes

Now that the London Olympics have concluded and school is back in session, I find myself basking in the afterglow of the empowering bonding experience that the Games provided for me and my daughter. I also have time to ponder the significance of the increased participation of women.
For two weeks, my daughter and I made a daily habit of selecting a few events to watch from the hours and hours of Olympic programming we’d recorded. “What shall we watch today?” I asked one day, to which she responded, “I like watching the events with women in them.”  I smiled inwardly, thinking that I felt the very same way. My husband jokingly accused us of watching swimming events to ogle the scantily clad male swimmers but those events were really not the main attraction. It was much more interesting to watch women who had pursued their dreams and reached the height of excellence in their chosen sport. It was inspiring. 
I am not by any stretch of the imagination athletic but I know how to swim, I’ve played volleyball before and I can (or maybe could) do a pretty good cartwheel. Suddenly, I could imagine myself on the U.S volleyball team, or swimming a lap in a relay or doing cartwheels while twirling a ribbon around. I know my daughter had the same experience because on the days when rhythmic gymnastics were on TV,  I had to take a circuitous route through the den to avoid bumping into her as she worked her way across the room, hula-hooping, or throwing and catching a small ball in imitation of the gymnasts.
It was exciting to learn that this was the first year in which every country participating had sent females athletes to compete; we felt like we were witnessing history in the making and in fact, we were. We watched Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia wear traditional Muslim head covering during her race.  She proudly represented her country; her presence there not only helped to dispel myths about women and Muslims, it also prompted the TV commentator to point out that Saudi Arabia is a country which still denies women the right to drive. Like many people who followed  #Women2Drive on Twitter, I was already aware of their struggle but for millions of TV watchers this was new information. Perhaps the dissemination of that information will gain Saudi women additional supporters and expedite their inevitable triumph. Maybe that’s why it took so long for Saudi Arabia to send female athletes. Perhaps it was this very thing they feared:  the Olympic spotlight can bring glory to a country but it can also attract scrutiny.
At the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government did not escape the scrutiny of human rights advocates. Although the IOC asks host countries to remedy human rights violations,  it is the public who must ultimately monitor and exert political and economic pressure on those who do not comply. I wonder how Russia will fare under that type of scrutiny as they prepare to welcome the world to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics? I wonder if Putin has given any thought to how his country and his administration will be perceived by the world if they choose to suppress dissenting views with trials that make the Russian judicial system the laughing stock of the rational world - why else would the judge in the Pussy Riot trial feel compelled to prohibit laughing? It would be funny if it weren’t so sad because these young women are being tried by what might as well be called the Russian Inquisition. 
Get ready for your close up, Mr. Putin.

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