How things have changed! Once upon a time I would have been spending every spare minute in front of the television when the Olympic Games were on. So far, apart from coverage that was on while we were waiting for the car to get serviced, I haven’t sat down to view any of the telecast. There’s a good reason for the change.
In 2000 I was able to get to a handful of events at the Sydney Olympics and a day at the Paralympics. Having been to a day of Track’n'Field and a day at the Pool, we soaked up what atmosphere there was, but ended up seeing things more through the view-screens than the binoculars. The crowds were friendly and the volunteers were delightful. I’d always thought that ‘being there’ that you’d get a sense of the true speed at which the athletes were racing, but I was wrong. Watching at home you really do get the best seats, complete with all the creature comforts.
I’d return to the Paralympics any day, because it didn’t have the same pressure. Ticketing wasn’t so rigid. We could go from event to event and stay as long or as short a time as we wished. It also, blissfully, wasn’t as crowded. Many of the events were totally different to the official Olympics, particularly regarding team sports, so it was an education. Surprisingly wheelchair basketball was more interesting and exciting than regular basketball.
What ruined the Olympics for me was World Youth Day. Not a lot of people can say that they have been to both. Even less can say that they have been to both in the same city. Truly, I am grateful for both experiences.
They are both international events. They both attract crowds and require crowd management. They both use lots of volunteers.
But one is about competition, about winning and losing. The other is about unity.
One is a way for nations to show off to each other without using weapons of mass destruction. The other was about celebrating cultural diversity, with each international group enriching us all with their uniqueness and with music, prayer and song.
One is focussed on the individual athletes, the coaches, the judges. The other is focussed on God.
One had an air of grim determination and seriousness. The other was drenched in a joy so strong that your facial muscles ached from smiling so much, even amidst all of the minor inconveniences.
Being present at both international events it was easy to see that the Olympics were trying to give people an idea of what it would be like for all nations to be in harmony. They were trying to produce the kingdom of God using secular means only. Trying to produce the conditions necessary for world peace, but not letting the source of Peace, God, into the picture. On the other hand World Youth Day was the real deal – an experience of the kingdom of God to last a lifetime which left a yearning to find its fulfillment in Heaven.
You can’t beat the real thing.
And anyone who has experienced the real thing has very little interest in pale imitations.
Once you’ve experienced the real thing, pale imitations don’t ever hold the same level of interest ever again.