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Opinion

Sydney 2000 memories are the perfect COVID-19 tonic

Cathy Freeman’s 400-metre gold was an unforgettable moment of the Sydney 2000 Olympics. (Photo by Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images)
Roar Guru
15th September, 2020
1

The celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games will be a glowing reminder of the critical role sport plays in modern societies, particularly as nations across the world continue to grapple with the serious consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

For those old enough and fortunate enough to experience first-hand the Sydney Olympics, the Games were a joyous celebration of the human spirit, and the 17-day adrenalin rush provided by more than 10,000 athletes is forever vividly etched into our memories.

It was a time where Sydneysiders proudly welcomed the world to our shores and where the omnipresent genuine smile of all Australians was as wide as the arc of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

We cheered home Cathy Freeman, Ian Thorpe and the other Australian team members, and we celebrated the special Olympic milestones achieved by athletes such as USA track superstar Michael Johnson and Great Britain’s rowing ace Steven Redgrave.

We shared the bitter pain of disqualified Australian walker Jane Saville when a gold medal was a mere 150 metres away, we felt the despair of the rowing men’s eight when narrowly beaten by Great Britain, and we admired the tenacity of Equatorial Guinea’s Eric “The Eel” Moussambani as his arms thrashed away in the 100-metre freestyle heats.

As sport throughout the world slowly emerges from the thick pandemic fog, it is instructive to reflect on the important unifying role sport has played, and continues to play, in lifting the spirits and souls of communities across the world when seemingly cornered in their darkest hours.

As scientists across the world feverishly work towards discovering a vaccine for COVID-19, it is important sport continues to be played in a safe and practical environment.

Sport’s unique spirit is an intoxicating brew. It lifts moods, it provides an emotional release, it inspires and motivates, and its special elixir binds communities and nations together as they cheer on their team or individual stars.

It overcomes political divides and draws cultures together in a manner that educates, heals and inspires communities.

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Cathy Freeman

(Photo by Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images)

One of the salient symbolic moments of the Sydney 2000 Olympics was when athletes from North and South Korea marched together in the Opening Ceremony behind a blue-on-white flag depicting the Korean peninsula.

The resilience of the Olympics has been severely tested. The Summer Games of 1916, 1940 and 1944 were cancelled because of World Wars but immediately bounced back when peace was declared.

The tragic loss of 11 Israeli athletes and officials during the 1972 Munich Olympics threatened the cancellation of the XX Olympiad, but the Games eventually continued with IOC president Avery Brundage declaring: “The Games must go on.”

And since then, the Olympics have marched on and injected passion, joy and celebrations to our lives.

At a community level, sport provides participants from youngsters through to seniors with important active health benefits and important mental and social stimulation as health restrictions curb our natural lifestyles.

Sport is not just about the winning or the losing, the competition or the trial.

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It represents a togetherness, a common bond, a camaraderie, the establishment and the upholding of long-standing friendships, and the healthy interaction between men and women, boys and girls of all ages and of all abilities and disabilities.

It is where role models are discovered and the impact they deliver to a wider cohort.

Sport is a teacher of teamwork, of striving for a common goal, of how to overcome obstacles, and how to share and celebrate its successes – life lessons we encounter on a daily basis at home, at work or at school.

As we continue to cope with pandemic restrictions, sport represents the beacon of light.

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It is an important distraction from the gloomy news cycle and injects much needed vibrancy into our lives.

And it is another reason why next year’s postponed Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games must be staged to help mend fractured nations and the heal the broken spirits of its peoples following the devastating effects of the pandemic.

And we only have to cast our minds back 20 years to the Sydney 2000 Olympics to understand how sport can rejuvenate, excite and unify our society.