The Significant Insignificance of International Sport in a Global Crisis

By Tim Elcombe, BSIA Fellow

Along with the headlines “Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating”, “Trump to deploy National Guard to fight virus”, and “Global stocks fall despite virus rescue efforts”, the BBC News also included “Olympic doubts grow as Canada withdraws athletes” as the top stories of March 23.

The story suggested that Canada’s decision to refuse participation in the 2020 Summer Olympics could effectively result in the Games’ postponement. This was not, to be more accurate, a decision made by the Federal Government, but by a national sporting organization – the Canadian Olympic Committee – on behalf of the country’s elite athletes. It only makes sense that such a non-essential event that would draw massive crowds and require close interaction amongst athletes from around the globe should be cancelled on health grounds. But the reason for the international significance of “Canada’s” decision goes far deeper – it speaks to the power of international sport in the global landscape. This was an opportunity for Canada, through sport, to take a highly symbolic lead role in the international response to a global crisis; it’s a crushing economic blow to some of the most powerful corporations and transnational organizations in the world; Japan’s opportunity to exercise “soft power” through the hosting of the Games has been circumvented. So while “games” are truly insignificant in a world gripped by an indiscriminating pandemic, Games are also powerful tools, for better or worse, in the sociopolitical arena. This is never more apparent than in times of turmoil, when sport becomes more than an “opiate for the masses” and mere games – but a powerful force through its “insignificance”.

Read the BBC News item here.

2020-03-23T18:00:31-04:002020, News|