Commentary: What Sport has to do with Syria

by Callum Ng 0

August 30th, 2012 News

It is entirely possible that for the month of August, my television will contribute to at least half of my electricity bill. That’s because it was always on. Right up until the closing ceremonies on August 12th my Samsung burned in the background, filling my office with the athletic feats of the world’s best.

I have to say, it was easy to get wrapped up in the rings. Canadian coverage was visually stunning. Across all their networks and platforms, (fancy words for channels and internet), there was always something on. People loved it. According to the TEAM 1040′s Tom Mayenknecht, Canadians actually watched more Olympics on a per capita basis than our US buddies. North Americans are into it and I definitely was.

But as my old Ma always says, everything good has to come to an end. She was usually throwing that around when my Dad was letting us watch hockey way past bedtime. In the case of the Olympics, it meant that I had a mini frazzleout on August 13th when I flipped over to Sportsnet and there was nothing cool on. (Actually I was pissed). (Then sad).

I defaulted to international news. Much less of a friendly friend to my daily work routine. At that time, I noticed something.

I paid attention to the nastiness. Syria blazed across my TV and I was struck by how real it was.

It’s obvious why this happened. For 16 days I was immersed in Olympic sport, a shimmering fantasy world of power and grace.

There were features on Oscar Pistorious, who has carbon fiber between his body and the track instead of flesh and bone. Mo Farrah ran a perfect 15 km over two races to win double gold in the 10,000 and 5,000. Then he did that heart thing with his slight runner’s arms bent over his head and charmed the world. Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte covers her mouth in shock after stealing the 100 Breaststroke. Like every Olympiad, this paragraph could be a book, filled with the elation, tragedy and nonsense of the athletic pinnacle. Leading nonsense in my mind has to be the twitter indiscretions that led to Voula Papachristou’s ejection before the cauldron was lit. And of course that other Swiss fellow.

The days after the Games forced me to consider my awareness. It felt like an art gallery in a partially gentrified neighbourhood. Inside the gallery, under the lights and artistic impression everything is so beautiful and dazzling. Then imagine yourself later on street, the low income housing and ‘broken glass’ seems more ugly and real.

However, I don’t believe it is that simple. For me, it isn’t just the contrast. It is the slight shedding of my own insensitivity. My empathy is on higher alert. Taking Syria for example, I am more inclined to imagine what it might be like to lose my home, to sleep on the floor at night in fear of shelling, to carry the body of my brother through the streets. Holy hell that is sobering.

Under the lights of the Olympic Games I see faces and personalities from around the world, in the smoke of Syria I can see nothing but I know that humans are there, suffering and struggling. And I can feel them a little more.

Sport is often lauded for being a powerful vehicle for change. I’ve said this myself. The truth is that it isn’t really clear what that means. Sport can’t directly solve the Syrian conflict. Of course. Nor can it offer even a glimpse of how you might stop what is happening. Syria is a complex political situation, from a foreign policy standpoint, and inside the country’s borders religion and power are catalysts of sickening destruction. But, (and there must be a but), sport can teach us something about our humanity and what happens when we best relate to each other.

The Olympics reminded me that real people live utterly different lives. Whether or not that means I can do anything about Syria is both relevant and depressing. Nonetheless, getting lost in a sporting event helped me find something I’d forgotten, and I don’t think that is entirely insignificant at all.

What bigger impact does swimming or sport have on the world? Tell me @CallumNg

Callum Ng is a SwimSwam contributor, story-teller and sport lover.

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About Callum Ng

Callum Ng is a Canadian story-teller, entrepreneur and sport leader. Callum has traveled across the world as a participant and promoter of recent sport events such as the IOC's WCSE 2011 and the Youth Olympic Games. As a former swimmer, Callum brings a unique angle to swimming coverage, capturing both …

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