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By: Stephanie Walstrom <[email protected]>

The sharing of a cause has the ability to humanize. It can break down walls and reduce even the most formidable foe to an equal. And the passion that drives an Olympic athlete is certainly a prime example.

Beijing, China will host the Olympic Games this August in the midst of a whirlwind of controversy. People around the globe have expressed outraged that the event will take place in a country that has waged violence against protestors in Tibet, hacked into the computers of national advocacy groups and supported the Sudanese regime responsible for the genocide in Darfur.

Recently, the pressure against China to make some changes was taken to an entirely new level: Reporters Without Borders, a French-based media watchdog, has pushed for countries to boycott the Olympics. And ever since China’s violent crackdown on Tibetan protestors a few weeks ago, talk of a boycott has been all over the news.

Like anyone else, I want an end to the genocide in Darfur and a fresh start for everyone involved in the conflict. I’d like to see some changes in international affairs, including those involving the Chinese government. But I am opposed to the Olympics being used as any sort of leverage.

For many reasons, the Olympics transcend the barriers that divide us in other arenas. It is the only time where warring nations, cultures, races and religions come together as equals to march, compete and celebrate. In its own unique way, the Olympics are sacred.

Some argue that China’s reasons for wanting to host the Olympics are purely political. Maybe that’s true. But it wouldn’t be the first time that the Olympics were used as a political forum. In 1968, Tommie Smith, an American and winner of the gold medal in track and field, gave the Black Power salute from the winner’s podium and was sent home. In 1972, the world was shaken when Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli coaches and athletes.

Yes, there have been moments where the Olympics were used to make negative political statements. But in my eyes, politics must take a back seat. The Games are a chance for athletes to prove themselves worthy of victory and for nations to prove themselves worthy of international respect. To think that the Olympics are significant to China only in the political sense would be a mistake.

Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympics Committee, said, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; just as in life the most important thing is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.”

The Olympics is a battleground where the opportunity to compete is a prize in itself. In 1992 Germany competed for the first time since 1952 as one nation, following years of warring and tension being East and West Germany. In 2000, the Olympics gave a voice to Australian Aborigines when aborigine Cathy Freeman lit the torch and won gold in the 400 meter run. In the 2004 Olympics, Gal Fridman won Israel’s first gold medal ever. Until then, Israel’s presence in the Games had been better remembered for political demonstrations than for sporting achievements.

The spirit behind the Olympic Games is simple: Let us come together and play. Regardless of what else is happening on the world stage, the Olympics this August will offer over 11,000 athletes from 200 countries the chance to do just that: come together and play. And it’s my hope that they are all allowed that opportunity.