By Kathryn Eaves
The Olympics generate a great deal of national pride in each participating country, whether they send a powerful contingent like Team USA, or a small one, like Dominica's team of three at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
When it comes down to it though, the Olympics are a chance for individual nations to celebrate their sporting achievements; they are, overall, a gathering of nations to participate in sport.
Different countries have different approaches to protecting their interests. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver there were complaints Canada was giving itself an advantage by restricting facility access to other countries, their reasoning being they were the only country to twice miss out on medals at their own Olympics: "Its not a record we're proud of." The late Christopher Hitchens retorted, "But elbowing guests out of your way at your own party — of that you can be proud."
Hitchens saw this as one of many examples of the Olympics bringing out the worst in people. When confronted with terrorism against Israel at the 1972 Munich Games, or the shooting of student protestors in Mexico in 1968, it is not hard to understand this view.
Yet the Olympics remain a time of celebration and excitement around the world. Look up the top Olympic moments from the start of the modern games in 1896 and it is clear they are as much about overcoming difficulty as they are about great athleticism. The ancient Olympics, first held in Greece, included a peace agreement whereby athletes and spectators were granted safe travel to and from the games.
This tradition continues with the modern Olympic Truce, invoked before each Olympics. From stories of violence come stories of peace, one of the initial aims of reviving the Olympics.
A recent example is when Russian Natalia Paderina won silver and Georgian Nino Salukvadze won bronze in the women's 10-metre air pistol competition at the 2008 games. Russia and Georgia were heading to war over North Ossetia as the games began, but the friends put their country's differences aside and embraced in front of the world.
In 1972, at the infamous Munich games, pentathlete Mary Peters won gold over her younger competitors. For Peters, this was the chance she had been waiting for to bring hope to her country, Northern Ireland, caught up in violence in the war between Catholics and Protestants.
Peters received death threats, particularly because she competed for Great Britain, and was advised not to return to Northern Ireland. She did so anyway and was greeted as a champion, briefly uniting the opposing sides.
Many other athletes have used their accomplishments for unity and equality of human life. Jesse Owens undermined Hitler's insistence on the superiority of an Aryan race in 1936 and Cathy Freeman carried the Indigenous Australian flag alongside the Australian flag at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Unfortunately, these examples of peace are only temporary. The Olympic Peace Treaty has not been able to put an end to the war and conflict featured daily in the news.
Christians believe eternal peace can be found in Jesus' sacrificial death. Because He took the penalty for our wrongdoing, we have the hope of peace despite war and global uncertainty. By making us right with God, we can have peace with Him for eternity (see Romans 5 verse 1).
To make this a reality, the Bible instructs us that, "If you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10, verses 9-10).
In talking to his disciples before His death, Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John chapter 14, verse 27).
The glimpses of peace that the Olympics provide are an encouraging sign of the peace to come and a peace we can have today, from Jesus' death and resurrection.•