The Global Citizen: Olympics
Saudi Arabian Women Athletes
Saudi Arabia is notorious for its troublesome human rights record and most especially for denying women an assortment of basic liberties. However, in a brief moment of openness, the Saudi government announced it will allow two women athletes to compete in this year’s London Olympics. It will be the first time that women are allowed to compete on behalf of the Islamic monarchy. This represents a dramatic shift in policy given that women are not allowed to participate in physical education classes or attend a gym. Their participation means that all competing countries at the Olympics will have women athletes after Brunei and Qatar relented this year.
The two athletes are named Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani (competing in Judo) and Sarah Attar (competing in the 800-meter race). The women will not be allowed to interact with men, must wear “suitable” clothing, and must be accompanied at all times. While it is an encouraging development, it is unclear whether the announcement will have ripple effects for nearly fifteen million Saudi women.
Social media is now a part of everyday life for millions of people across the world and even more so for young people. Organizers behind the 2012 Olympic Games in London aim to capture this momentum by integrating services like Facebook and Twitter into this summer's games. There are already four official Twitter accounts associated with the event, a Youtube channel, Facebook page, Flickr slideshow, iPhone app, the list goes on and on.
American runner Tommie Smith won the gold medal in the 200 meter dash at the 1968 Olympic games with a record 19.83 seconds. Australia's Peter Norman came in second at 20.06 seconds and the US's John Carlos clocked in at 20.10 seconds, rounding out the medal winners. As the three runners walked to the podium to receive their medals, Smith and Carlos wore only black socks to symbolize widespread poverty in the African-American community. Carlos also wore a necklace of beads representing African-Americans who were lynched and killed in the United States. Once the three athletes reached the podium and the national anthem began, Smith and Carlos raised their fists instead of covering their hearts. Norman, a critic of Australia's discriminatory policies, joined them in protest by wearing a human rights badge on his uniform.
This was an unprecedented moment in modern Olympics history. The three runners made an overtly political statement that criticized major world powers. The Games were held only months after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and a few years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous March on Washington. The salute was a sign of resistance to white oppression around the world, similar to other famous incidents such as Rosa Parks' refusal to sit at the back of a bus, the Greensboro sit-ins, and Malcolm X's revolutionary speeches.
Modern tension on the Korean Peninsula dates back to 1945 when the Soviet Union declared war on the current occupiers, Japan. In years prior, the peninsula had been controlled by a series of dynasties, but was invaded and annexed by Japan in 1910. After the end of World War II in 1945, the territory was divided along the 38th parallel between the United States and Soviet Union. Hope for unification faded in June 1950 when North Korea breached the border leading to the outbreak of the Korean War. After three years of intense fighting between American, Chinese, Soviet, and Korean troops, the war officially concluded with the formalization of a interstate border called the demilitarized zone. However, low-level fighting and frequent rhetorical provocations keep the conflict on the radar of many relevant states.
In the past, North and South Korea marched together in the Olympics on three separate occasions: 2000 in Sydney, 2004 in Athens, and 2006 in Turin. Describing the event as "highly emotional," athletes from North and South Korea travelled to the stadium together and marched in the opening ceremonies as one unified entity. Using the flag of the Korean Peninsula, a simple flag with a blue silhouette of the Korean Peninsula and a white background, the group showed one of the very few instances of Korean bilateralism in the last few decades.
The opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London are merely weeks away. In the weeks leading up to the thirtieth Olympiad, we want to highlight five stories that exemplify global cooperation and international justice. Some of the topics we will cover are North and South Korea marching together at the 2000 games, the human rights salute of 1968, and the relationship between international institutions and peacemaking.
The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 at the Panathenaic stadium in Athens, Greece. It instantly became a universally recognized sporting event involving many countries including Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Italy, and the United States. However, national teams were not an integral component of the games until ten years later. Despite this, athletes felt a sense of pride in competing on behalf of their country, but prioritized cooperation.
The Olympic Charter, which governs the games, is written to reflect the spirit of cooperation espoused by world leaders every four years. Three "fundamental principles of Olympism" are especially relevant:
"The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity"
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