Never let anyone tell you the Olympic Games are “only sport”. In London, the 2012 Olympics became a living, breathing aspect of the life of the city and one that left nobody who experienced it here untouched.
The Olympics is not about being the biggest or the richest – all the wealth in the world cannot ensure a place on the winners’ podium – but about striving to be the best. The Arab teams may not have been the largest, the Palestine team comprised only two competitors, but they were as important and as credible as any team (some numbering over 500) taking part in London 2012. These were neither politicians nor heads of state, but athletes from around the globe, with names many of us had never heard and could not even pronounce, chosen from the people to represent the people at the most important sporting event in the world, the Olympic Games.
At the time of going to press, it is impossible to say what the collective Middle Eastern medal count will be, but there is no question that the region’s teams won gold in the hearts and minds of all those who have witnessed their strength in adversity over recent years. Many of the teams defied the odds just by being in London, they were winners even before their feet touched British soil.
For the first time every team included women competitors, striking an important blow for gender equality. Certainly, if a woman competing against the rest of the world in her sport is sufficiently adept to win a medal for her skills, it is probably time to allow her to drive herself home from the airport. Despite their internal troubles, teams from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Yemen car- ried their flags at the opening ceremony, as proudly as any; politics – for once – was not the main agenda.
Yet, within the Middle East there has rarely been a time when the need for regional cohesion has been quite so pressing. Despite its wars, civil wars and threats of wars, Arab and Iranian athletes came together at the opening ceremony in London and the events that followed, in true Olympian style, which requires mutual understanding within the spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
Never has the phrase “it is not the winning but the taking part” had so much relevance. These young Olympians should be an inspiration to us all.
Pat Lancaster, Editor In Chief