Pierre de Courbetin must have seemed like an oddity. The world was just settling down from two decades of massive industrialisation and colonialisation – and typically the new masters of the planet wanted to rest and not worry about the concept of equality of men through sports.
That is what the Olympics is about. 112 years later, the dream lives on.
But what are the lessons from the Olympics for Malaysian society?
Competition as an ends
The Olympic ideal is not about the winning of events, but competing. I am not sure I am doing complete justice to the term competing.
It is not some sort of PR exercise in explaining what is losing.
Almost every sport has its own championships and often the Olympics is not the true test of the sport’s champion.
Football has its world cup, and the same equivalent rings for basketball, baseball, shooting and the like.
Yet the Olympics is about romance.
The romance is from its Greek origin, in that competitors are not those who train for the games. Training was abhorred.
The real reason is in that the true ability and not practice should be the gauge of excellence. A bit too puritanical for the modern sports enthusiast.
But Courbetin’s message was that when we compete the best in us comes out, and in doing so we will love the competition far more than the winning.
That is why great champions have respect for each other.
The non-competition ethos
For decades in Malaysia, people have scorned competition as the devil’s brew.
It is often dangerous to mention open competition in polite company, for they would think you are a rebel rouser.
In my debating days, while we were new people were always attracted to winning, which is natural and often is the drive.
But as the years go by and rounds are won and lost, and skill levels reach optimum – the only thing that was most important was to have a worthy opponent. Wins are never remembered, but the experience of competing with someone who pushes herself as hard, makes me respect myself more.
The winning obsession
The country always had weaknesses, but in the last thirty years we have become obsessed with winning and not so much in the competing. If fact it is more advisable not to have a competition in order for wins to be prearranged.
And in this, we lose the champion’s virtue.
There is a global competition and because of our affinity for no competition, our people are generally weak when it comes to competing. I sense a national sense of defeatism, and a comfort of being the jaguh kampung.
What are we really good in – if we were competing on equal terms with most nations?
The best memories of the Olympics are not who wins, but who has not. The Tongan who is 30 kilos heavier than all the other runners running down to a slow end in the sprint. The swimmer who comes from a nation where there are no Olympic size pools. The South African black hugging white runners after the end of apartheid. The lone marathon guy, looking for a way to the stadium when everyone has gone off before him.
The stories are always there. That is why even the millionaires of the NBA with no financial interest in the Olympics come for their date with real stars. Of a Brazilian team with 5 world cups still wanting an inaugural Olympic gold.
And for us Malaysians, winning is not possible until we learn how to compete. In our businesses, in our schools, in our playing fields and in our politics.
The culture of competition is the Olympic lesson for Malaysia