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Commentary: It's more than patriotism to host good Games
15:21, August 03, 2008

When Kim Collins sprinted to a stunning victory in the 100 meters at the World Championships on Aug. 25, 2003, many people didn't know what his country's abbreviation SKN stood for.

Collins, from the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, said his victory was "the biggest thing" since his tiny country -- with a population of less than 40,000 -- had its independence in 1983.

"You don't have to be from a big country, a rich country, a rich family," he said. The whole world were probably looking for St. Kitts and Nevis on the map the moment they knew what he had achieved.

To do credit to their homeland is apparently a driving force for all athletes, at world championships or Olympics, and sportsmanship has proven an essential part of their national identity.

As Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd put it, "When the world looks at Australia, so much of their image of Australia is shaped by what our sportsmen and women have done on the fields of sport, including Olympic sports, in that intervening century."

When Tanzanian marathon hero John Stephen Akhwari dragged his injured leg to finish last, with four hours 30 minutes, in the marathon race of in the Mexico City Games in 1968, he received a warm applause and cheers.

"My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me to finish," said Akhwari, then 30.

Despite his last finish, Akhwari became one of the most memorable figures in Olympic history and was honored a national hero by his country in 1983.

National pride is ingrained in every athlete and every game. Over the years the world witnessed how Japanese volleyball fans roared in favor of their national team and how the Italians mourned their football team's loss on home soil.

Yet what impressed us most was how American youngsters waved miniatures of the star and strips and roaring their country's name until the end of the 1994 World Cup in Dallas.

When asked why they were cheering when the U.S. team were not actually competing that day, the answer was they were "cheering on their country."

EMBRACING WORLD

The Olympic flame apparently ignited the Chinese people's love for their homeland and a multitude of them took to the streets after overseas attempts to disrupt, or even sabotage the Olympic torch relay earlier this year.

By eloquently fighting back prejudice and unfair accusations, the Chinese openly expressed their love for homeland and safeguarded their national pride.

In the meantime, Beijing, as host of the upcoming Olympic Games, has strictly followed international norms in its preparations for the sports feast -- and has made extra efforts to create the best possible environment for the Games.

To improve the people's awareness of the Games and bridge the cultural gap between the East and West, China has promoted Olympic education among its 400 million youngsters over the past seven years.

The Olympics have started a citywide English learning campaign in Beijing, with shop assistants, taxi drivers, policemen and even pensioners avidly hitting the books and mimicking basic conversations.

Beijing has also sent the biggest team of volunteers to the Games, comprising students, office workers, pensioners and people from all walks of life.

The Chinese public, in particular, have demonstrated immense enthusiasm and been heavily involved in the Games preparations, now that their centennial dream to host the Games has come true.

If their readiness to embrace the world, coupled with a love for homeland, is interpreted as "frantic nationalism", we fear such a judgement was based on a parochial way of thinking.

Remember the 2002 Winter Games opening in Salt Lake City? A tattered U.S. flag recovered from the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center was displayed and President George W. Bush's declared the Games' opening on behalf of a "proud, determined and grateful nation".

It was the U.S. message to the world: Americans loved their nation which was still overshadowed in the Sept. 11 tragedy. And the world should stand united to promote common ideals and hope for peace.

TAKING GAMES EASY

Years before the Beijing Games open, Beijing has moved to play down the public gold expectations and trim citizens' behaviors for one of the biggest international gatherings ever.

"Domestic fans should learn to respect foreign athletes and spectators," said Deng Yaping, former world champion paddler and now an official with the Beijing Games organizers.

"It's understandable that local fans love our own athletes and hope the Chinese teams would win, but as hosts we must watch out for national sentiments and be nice to all athletes," she said.

After all, it's more than patriotism to host successful Games. It is important to show due respect to all athletes that are honoring the Olympic spirit -- shining stars like Phelps or those persevering Akhwari.

So a relaxed sentiment and courtesy to all are what the Chinese should opt for as Olympic hosts. Such qualities, when coupled with patriotism, will leave us legacies even more important than gold.

Source: Xinhua

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