By Staff Writer Ansh Patel
Idealistically, the Olympics is a platform to celebrate the greatest athletes in the world, and for countries to put aside their differences and unite in the spirit of competition. Pitted against their opponents, teams come together and work towards a gold medal. At the same time, many ignore the consequences of taking nationalism too far at the games.
Stephen Walt of Foreign Policy Magazine contextualizes blind nationalism in his 2012 article where he argues that people have an innate urge to support athletes from their country. He continues that people rationalize their nationalism by reasoning that their country’s athletes are superior, even if those reasons aren’t based on fact. When fans cheer for athletes at the Olympics they don’t cheer for people they know personally or for people who they know are more deserving of a title. Yet, spectators get a certain pleasure when someone from their own country that they have never met does will. Although there may be exceptions to this rule, Walt argues that we are all, in some way, influenced by nationalist biases, especially during the Olympics.
Often times, nationalism and fierce competitive spirit is destructive and works against their intentions. Athletes and fans become so caught up in the rivalry that they lose sight of the ramifications of their actions. For example, after the US Women’s Gymnastics team won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Gabby Douglas did not put her hand over her heart during the Star-Spangled Banner, sparking national outrage. Even though it later became clear that Douglas’ hand placement was innocuous and the gymnast apologized, Twitter users continued to harass her. The outrage represents the differing opinions and ideologies that are brought to light during the Olympics. Since the games foster an environment of nationalism, people are easily offended by even the slightest act of contempt towards a country.
This idea was reinforced during the women’s 400 meters event, where Bahamian athlete, Shaunae Miller, dived over the finish line to win the gold over Allyson Felix. NBC News reports that many took to Twitter to rant about why Allyson Felix deserved to win, even though the dive was completely legal. In an interview after the race, Miller explained that she had exhausted herself during the race and stumbled when she tried to lean over the finish line, but the defense did not deter the wave of criticism from Team USA fans.
Aside from the overreactions and cyberbullying, some argue that the Olympics encourage a healthy form of patriotism, one that unites a country and strengthens its principles and culture. Citizens want to prove their country’s superiority and the Olympics pull those nationalist views into the spotlight. And while it may seem innocent or even healthy for a country to prove itself to the world, the past shows us the reality of the discord that follows when nationalism isn’t controlled.
Photo Courtesy CBS New York