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The Games Must Go On


Rabbi Berel Wein

Elul 5768
Far be it from me, an inveterate sports fan myself at heart, to throw cold water on the worldwide enthusiasm for the Olympic Games currently being held in Beijing, China. These games are ostensibly meant to promote universalism, multi-culturalism, fairness, skill, talent and respect for the diversity of humankind. But that is all just smoke and mirrors, a sham and a travesty as to the real purposes that lie behind this spectacle. These purposes are greed in terms of billions of dollars, nationalism, political agendas and the ages-old worship of the human body and its wonders. The Olympics are a way of reverting to the good old days of the Greeks and their hedonistic and pagan culture. It is the pious high-mindendness and noble pronouncements of the sponsors of the games and their assorted committees that most repel me. The history of the Olympic Games in modern times reflect a litany of honoring murderers and despots, killings and assassinations and a callous indifference to human life and sufferings – all in the name of the nobility of sports competition. It matters not wherever venue the games occur or whatever human tragedies ensue in course of those games – the supreme good is accomplished in the mantra: "The games must go on!" And at the games everyone is equal, or at least almost equal, the oppressor and the oppressed, the murderers and their victims, the guilty and the innocent, the powerful and the hapless. Well, no matter, the games must go on.

In 1936 the Olympics held in Berlin gave Hitler a free ride into world respectability. In order not to offend his delicate sensibilities, the American Olympic committee under the anti-Semitic leadership of Avery Brundage and his like excluded Jewish athletes from the team. How embarrassing it was to Hitler that an American black, Jesse Owens, was the star of the games. But Hitler got over it and took his revenge. Because of him there were no games in 1940 or 1944. How sad, for really the games should have gone on. In the Cold War era, the Soviet Union, East Germany and other Communist bloc nations prided themselves on the accomplishments of their specially trained and heavily subsidized "amateur" athletes. Their exploits were meant to prove to humankind the superiority of Marxist ideology over the decadent capitalistic West. But the Olympics took no notice of this because the games must go on. In 1972 eleven Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered at the games. But that also meant nothing because the games must go on. Today such noble countries as North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Iran among others, pledged to destroy and starve millions of human beings, are honored guests at the games. And there is a delegation there from Palestine, a country which does not exist but is there only to vex the Jewish people for the world’s error in allowing a Jewish state to come into existence sixty years ago. But no matter, the games must go on.

And how about the host country, China? Thirty six concentration camps that house hundreds of thousands of poor unfortunates, a record of abysmal human rights abuses over the last decades and a scorecard of devouring at least eighty million of its own citizens over the past sixty years are all of no account because the games must go on. The main problem with China in hosting the games is the smog in Beijing. But even so, the games must go on. The rabbis of the Talmud abhorred the Greek sports spectacles. They correctly felt them to be pagan, violent, indecent and eventually disrespectful of humanity and its true values. I doubt if they would change their opinion today, seeing as to how the games are being run. And here in Israel we witnessed the tragedy of one of our athletes losing his father the day before the games were to begin. I am not one to judge anyone in their hour of pain and sadness. But saying that he knows that his father would have wanted him to compete anyway only shows how deep the mentality of the games must go on has penetrated our society. What about the Jewish tradition of shiva and respect for an elder, a father, a parent? What about some Jewish self-pride? In American professional sports all players in such circumstances take bereavement leave. MK Ruby Rivlin stated that "I would not allow such a thing as continuing to compete under such circumstances to occur in my family." Too bad Ruby, you just don’t get it. No matter what, the games must go on.
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