Excitement is growing and London is counting the months to hosting the most important event in the global sporting calendar – the Olympic Games. These ancient games have, from their beginning, drawn athletes to strive for excellence. The achievement of this excellence has been symbolised in gold.
The term ‘More than Gold’ was coined by an organisation whose vision is to enable the UK churches to engage with the 2012 Games – see www.morethangold.org.uk.
However our reason for using the term is because it challenges us to see beyond the aspirations for gold to the human beings whose lives are, for better or worse, affected by the Olympic Games.
These are the athletes themselves who willingly pay a huge price to reach the excellence required to participate in the Olympic Games. Over years they engage with a discipline which excludes many of the normal daily enjoyments. What it includes is hours of training each day, a stringent diet and often sacrificing a social life.
The athletes’ families also have to be ready to make sacrifices as the main focus of the athlete’s life becomes the readiness for the Games, especially at this time when the Games are within sight.
Those involved in building the Olympic facilities in the years before the games take on an enormous task and are placed under huge pressure to complete in good time, often working long, compromising hours.
The residents of the East End of London have seen a transformation of their area. Here is where the main events will take place and where the Olympic Village has been built, as well as a shopping mall said to be the biggest in Europe. For some residents it has meant a move from the area, for others a welcome investment in what had become a forgotten part of the city, for some employment, for others, no doubt, it has meant losing the character of the area which they valued. How will it be for the residents as the Games commence? And what will happen to the facilities when the Games finish and how will this affect the people who live here.
Any person travelling through the East End of London during the games will certainly encounter disruption. Companies, hospitals and public services in the East End are planning how to navigate the security measures which will be put in place as well as the increased traffic, to ensure that they can carry out their commitments to the community.
Much happens on the fringe of a big event. One aspect of this is where others provide services for the spectators such as food and entertainment. Much of this is good humoured and adds to the enjoyment of the occasion.
However those in pursuit of a profit regardless of cost to others often operate in these situations too and there is a real concern that the Games will provide an opportunity for those involved in people trafficking to increase their gold at the expense of those trafficked.
Trafficking is one of the worst crimes of our age. It has been described as a modern form of slavery because people are trafficked into the country, held against their will and forced into prostitution or other forms of work. The concern is that the Games will be a magnet for traffickers offering the services of trafficked women and that as a result of the potential gain they will import even more women into the UK than the many thousands who are already caught in this trap.
Although one can only admire the dedication of the participants in the Olympic Games the Games are about much more than the acquisition of gold medals. It is the taking part in an event where a world comes together to create something good, the peak of human potential is reached and the dignity and equality of all, nations and individuals, is acknowledged.
Every single person should benefit from the Games in a way that recognises that while the symbol of the excellence displayed is gold the heart and soul of the Games is the human person.