The Olympics or the World Cup?

Point - Counterpoint

The Olympics

Why are the Olympics the most important sporting event in the world? Easy. They encompass everything that true sport represents. It is the only event in the world, athletic or otherwise, that allows the world to erase colour, gender and class, uniting us as one people.

Every component of the games, from the lighting of the torch to the images on the medals, demonstrates the power of the Olympic spirit to help us look past the turmoil of the world to find the things that join us together.

The opening and closing ceremonies showcase the culture and individuality of not only the host nation but of many different countries.

The Olympic flag is one of the most recognizable and symbolic images in the world. The five Olympic rings represent the unity of the continents. The colours of the rings, blue, black, red, yellow and green, were chosen so that every country would have at least one of their national colours represented.

The FIFA World Cup can claim many of the same attributes as the Olympics, drawing millions of die-hard soccer fans from around the world. But the connection that Canadian fans have with Olympic sports, especially in the Winter Games, simply can’t be matched. Hockey, the sport nearest and dearest to the heart of many a faithful Canuck is an endless source of pride for Canada, boasting a consistently solid men’s team, and a women’s squad that is nearly unbeatable. Canada has not qualified for the World Cup in 20 years.

The expression of national pride present at most World Cup matches has been credited with sparking more violence than peace. National Geographic has argued that riotous team rivalries have been the catalysts for war, including the Croatian war for independence in 1990. The Olympic Games have exhibited an inexplicable power to make countries to set aside their differences in pursuit of a common goal: Citius, Altius, Fortius.

For example, during the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Torino Olympic Games, though they competed as two separate teams, North Korea and South Korea marched into the stadium as one country, under one flag, bearing the image of their homeland.

Sport showcases the human spirit at its best and there is no greater venue for it than the Olympic Games. There is no other place where so many people from so many different cultural and athletic roots can find common ground.

I don’t believe that there is, or ever will be, anything like it.

- Erin Flegg

The World Cup

Forgive me if I seem to be stating the obvious: the World Cup is the most important sporting event in the world.

I suppose questioning the dominance of the World Cup in sporting events is found only in the “soccer free zone,” a.k.a. North America. Regardless, the historical, cultural, and popular pedigrees of these competitions decide the matter conclusively.

The Olympics can stake their claim on a historical basis: with roots dating back to Ancient Greece, the games have inevitably acquired a certain symbolic status. However, this exalted reputation also has an Achilles heel. The idealized image of the games has been marred by sinister political motives (Berlin 1936), terrorism (Munich 1972), and should-be felons (Todd Bertuzzi 2006).

Furthermore, the Olympics, although purported to be apolitical, have proven to be the opposite. Throughout the Cold War and into 21st century they have served as a venue for political grandstanding. Indeed, the stage is set for a showdown between America and China in Beijing, summer 2008.

Soccer’s holy grail, however, can’t be bought. Pele went from playing with a sock stuffed with paper to three World Cup victories. And today, most of the Brazilian stars also hail from the poorest neighbourhood’s in their country. World Cup success has no correlation with nuclear stockpiles or political stature. It is the sport of the people. One need only contrast the pale shadows that Russia, China or the US have cast upon the World Cup pitch with the bright flames of Brazil, Senegal or South Korea to see that this is true.

That aside, the cultural importance of the World Cup makes this abundantly clear to me. While the Olympics provide, arguably, a bigger platform for international competition, the World Cup is a much more passionate affair. Nations involved are galvanized for months beforehand. At kick-off they experience a climax of national identity and pride unmatched by any other sporting event. This is equally true for champions and for newcomers, who are victorious in simply qualifying.

Another obstacle to appreciating the Olympics is its attempt to provide a stage for all, thereby diminishing the importance of each sport. As much as I respect every Olympian, few can recall who won the gold medal in men’s double luge.

So I encourage everyone to drop by your local pub to catch some quarterfinal action. One match is all it takes to understand why soccer truly is “The Beautiful Game.”

- By Brennan Leong

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