The Olympics are always magnificent. They bring the world together. The competition of the talented young athletes demonstrates the power, speed, precision and grace of human achievement and, most of all, the beauty of the human spirit. We are reminded that we are one world, and we are capable of coming together to compete peacefully.
In the Athens Olympics, there was a striking moment that demonstrated the power of the people. It occurred during the men’s gymnastic competition. The great Russian Olympian, Alexi Nemov was performing in the individual competition on the high bar. He performed a magnificent routine, releasing from the bar and flying over it four or five times. When he landed at the end of his routine the excitement in the room was palpable. There was a tremendous ovation.
Then the judges’ scores came up. They were lower than the crowd in the arena thought was fair, and the people rose to their feet and jeered the scores. Many attempts were made to quiet the crowd in order for the next athlete to compete, but the people would not be silenced. They clearly believed that they had witnessed an injustice, and they were not willing to be silent in the face of this injustice.
At this point one of the senior officials walked to the judges’ platform and spoke with two judges who had given particularly low scores. Then the scores were adjusted upward and new scores posted in the arena. But the crowd was still not fully satisfied as the scores remained below the crowd’s level of expectation for Nemov’s brilliant performance. The people continued to express their dissatisfaction.
Then, Nemov stepped out and faced the crowd. With great humility, he gestured to the crowd to stop their protest and they responded. The arena finally quieted enough for the competition to continue.
Why was this a great moment? Because the people spontaneously arose to protest a perceived injustice. Because the multinational crowd in the arena stood in solidarity with an athlete who they thought had been treated unfairly. Because the people in the arena that day demonstrated that their power was not to be denied. Because they showed the world that they would not be cowed by authorities, in this case the judges, from their own understanding of what is just and fair.
If only we could learn from this great Olympic moment. People matter. Fairness matters. And there are times when it is necessary for people to raise their voices against those in power if individuals are to be protected and fairness is to be upheld.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.