With the Rio 2016 Olympic Games just a few weeks away, the lasting legacy of London 2012 and of the games in general has come under scrutiny. The Olympic Games are world famous as a spectacular showcase of the very best in global sporting talent. But over recent years, the games have moved beyond sporting excellence into social commentary and progress. The rise in status of the Paralympic games, the participation and equality of female athletes, drugs testing, and the prevention and management of both injury and disease are just some of the key issues that the Olympics has brought to the fore.
We examine some of the ways in which the Olympic Games maintains its status as a world-class event and continues to grow and improve.
The Medal Tables
London 2012 marked Great Britain’s most successful crop of medals in over one hundred years. With 29 gold medals, 17 silver, and 19 bronze, the tally of 65 medals in all saw the host country secure an impressive third place in the medal table overall. Sporting giants with large populations, excellent training and formidable reputations surrounded the UK on both sides with the United States and China topping the board in first and second places respectively, and the Russian Federation hot on Great Britain’s heels with 24 gold medals.
While Russia secured 82 medals to better Great Britain’s overall 65, 32 of the medals were bronze and 26 silver, leaving Great Britain’s gold crop untouched. Interestingly, however, a host country has never yet bettered its tally at the following summer games. Great Britain’s athletes and officials have voiced their “aspirational goal” to better their score, but many pundits concede that this would be no mean feat. “It may not be probable but it is possible,” said UK Sport’s chief executive, Liz Nicholl. “If it was easy, it would have been done before and it hasn’t.”
Interestingly, while many Olympic favourites were visible in the top 20 leader board and medals table including Germany, France, and Australia, the London 2012 Games also saw some surprises. Kazakstan stormed in at 12th position with a total of 13 medals including 7 gold. Iran also secured 17th place on the medal table with 4 gold medals and a total of 12 medals overall. The inclusive and welcoming atmosphere of the London 2012 games were widely commented upon.
The success of nations around the world who may not normally be associated with high positions on the medals board helps to demonstrate the growth in the global popularity of the games. The Dawn’s Editorial of Pakistan commented that, “for once, politics and terrorism took a backseat as the world focused on the triumphs and tears of sport. Incident-free and a credit to the organisers.”
Efforts in Equality
The London 2012 games marked the first time that female boxers were allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. In spite of many accomplished female fighters winning titles in World Championships, European Championships and other prestigious events, the door had still been closed to them on an Olympic world stage. Great Britain’s Nicola Adams won gold in the flyweight category (51kg), and has already voiced her intention to retain her gold medal at the Rio 2016 games. She qualified for her place on the team by beating Norway’s Marielle Hansen in Turkey. Celebrated boxer Katie Taylor of Ireland also won gold in the Light category (60kg).
The Rio Olympic Committee has also sought to broaden its inclusive policies when it comes to transgender athletes. However, the decision to allow athletes to compete in their chosen category without gender reassignment surgery has been controversial.
For the first time in Olympic history, the International Committee ruled that an official refugee team would be competing alongside other countries at the Rio 2016 Games. The talented athletes, who would otherwise be ineligible to compete with no state to represent, will compete under the Olympic anthem and flag. The decision highlights the efforts being made to ensure that the games are entirely inclusive and interested only in sporting excellence.
It offers the opportunity for outstanding athletes to compete regardless as to their current political or asylum circumstances. While perhaps only between five and ten athletes will fully qualify, a total of 43 refugees were identified with the talent and abilities to be considered. Swimmer, Yusra Mardini, who fled her home in Syria commented on the decision to The Guardian newspaper. “I want to make all refugees proud of me,” she said. “I want to show that even if we have had a tough journey, we can achieve something.”
Many pundits commented on the smooth and successful organisation of the London 2012 Olympic events. But it has recently been lauded as being more than simply competent. It was also strategic. Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, advised the host nation to stage events early in the schedule in which Great Britain was likely to do well.
This, he claimed, would boost national pride and interest, even if it wouldn’t necessarily be sustained. Brazil has a long history as a spirited, party nation, with Rio in particular hosting an impressive carnival. If the Rio games can capitalise on its nation’s celebratory atmosphere by scheduling successful events early on, a positive spirit and atmosphere may permeate the rest of the games.
For the Rio games, the bar has been set high in previous years, with expectations of a well-organised games that will counter initial reservations, from transport issues to building scheduling. It is to be hoped that this will be yet another global event in which the whole world can be proud to participate.