The Significant Lessons of the Beijing Olympics

  • 26 August 2007

With the end of the two-week Beijing Olympics in which more than 11,000 athletes from around the world competed, numerous lessons can be learned from the games, not only in sports but also in other areas and issues that concern the world and the Arabs.

From the opening and closing ceremonies, to the widely acclaimed detailed organization of the large sports event, to winning first place for the first time, China has proven itself to be a world power capable of shouldering the responsibility for major events requiring considerable administrative, technical, and human capacities. In other words, China has sent a political message through the Olympics that it can be a top competitor for position and influence.

In addition to this political message, the Olympics had a cultural edge and worked as a bridge between the world's cultures whose athletes competed in good will and away from political differences and problems. It also was an occasion for the world to see China and be exposed to the culture of this "human giant." The head of the International Olympic Committee put it thus: "through these games, the world has come to know China, and China has come to know a lot about the world."

For the Arab world specifically, the Olympics have shown that the Arabs are still unable to compete effectively in sports on the international stage. The combined Arab states delegation won only eight medals, only two of which were gold, in comparison to ten in the previous games in Athens. This was less than the eight gold medals won by only one American swimmer, Michael Phelps.

Sports are no longer just competitive games taking place regularly but an area that measures the capabilities and positions of states and societies on the international map of progress and development. They also are a window through which states show themselves and their cultures. Winning a medal in the Olympics gives them a precious opportunity to shine because of the wide audience the games have. Studies show that 4.4 million people watched the first ten days of the Beijing Olympics. Finally, international sports achievements do not come from a vacuum but from a translation of other elements of power in any society.

These lessons should be taken into consideration by the Arabs in the coming period so that the 2012 London Olympics will not be another occasion for an Arab sports failure on the international stage.