Above: Yoshinori Sakai, born on the day Hiroshima was bombed in 1945, carries the torch to light the Olympic flame in 1964.
The first Olympics were offerings to the gods. Beginning in 776 BC, the original Olympic Games were held every four years in honor of Zeus, who commanded the heights of Mt. Olympus.
Sporting events as offerings to the gods is actually quite common in history. In Japan, sumo wrestling is also considered sacred to the gods. (The reason that only males are allowed to step on the earthen dohyo sumo ring, incidentally, is that it is sacred to a goddess. Accusations against Japan of “gender bias” over sumo wrestling betray woefully inadequate knowledge of history and of current practice.)
The important point is that sports have long been considered something offered up to the deities. Because the Olympic Games were sacred to Zeus, for example, no other competition was allowed during the Olympic season in ancient Greece. This included the competition of war.
The Olympics as Cultural Bellwether
The modern Olympic Games are quite different from the ancient Greek Games. The ancient Games were held for almost a millennium after 776 BC, but eventually died out due to endless natural disasters and political disintegration. Without the Olympics, the West descended into the chaos of the Dark Ages.
In 1896, the Olympics were reborn in Athens, Greece, as a new kind of offering. This time, however, the Games were sacred not to Zeus, but to the entire human race, which had been elevated to the status of a god. The founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, was fascinated by the ancient Olympics, but thought the real value of the Games was in the daily and intense training the athletes performed.
The so-called Enlightenment put human beings at the center of the human experience, and taught that by human effort the human race could progress. Coubertin’s Olympics were an extension of Enlightenment thinking, a “civil religion” by and for man. The modern Olympic Games were to be an artificial religion, freed from the gods and made to fit the needs of the modern world which had developed in the Enlightenment’s shadow. Coubertin was convinced that, if the Olympics succeeded, it could be the key to world peace.
At the 1896 Olympics it was clear who the new deities were. Athletes glistened in the sun like Apollo, basking in the glory of the enthusiastic fans. (The word “fan,” we should remember, comes from a Latin word meaning “religious devotee.” Old ways of thinking never really disappear.)
For people worldwide on the cusp of the 20th century, the resurrected Olympics from 2,700 years before were a ritual bearing some resemblance to ancient Greece, but the meaning of the rites was completely different. On Coubertin’s Enlightenment Olympics model, spectators were to look up to and emulate the athletes who trained hard for the Games. If everyone in every country worked as assiduously at their jobs and studies, then all of humanity could progress into the future.
The old Olympics were for Zeus. The new Olympics are for man. The modern Olympic Games are offerings to the Enlightenment ideal of a self-sufficient humanity bound only by the limits of the human will.
Japan Welcomes the World, the World Welcomes Japan
As the Enlightenment and civil religion spread around the globe, the Olympics came to be held in Asia for the first time in 1964, with the Summer Games in Tokyo.
Japan had passed through the horrors and ruin of war and the subsequent American Occupation, but had found its feet again. At the Opening Ceremony in October of 1964, Yoshinori Sakai, who was born the very day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima some 19 years before, carried the Olympic torch on the final leg into the stadium and lit the Olympic flame.
The new Games in Japan had begun.
The Showa Emperor stood attentively as the athletes from the countries of the world filed into the Olympic stadium. “Peace” and “internationalism” were the watchwords of the day. Postwar Japan was welcoming the world, but the world was also, through the Olympic ritual, welcoming back Japan.
The horrors of war visited upon Japan by America and other evangelical Enlightenment countries had become part of Japan’s unique set of experiences and traditions. In turn, all of that had been folded back into the new religion known as the Olympics. By making the Olympic offering in 1964, Japan became a believer in the civil religion, too.
Chinese Coronavirus Nearly Derails 2020 Olympics
Nearly 60 years have passed since Japan welcomed the world, and the world welcomed Japan, in Tokyo in 1964. It was Japan’s turn to make the Olympic offering again.
As in 1964, Japan spent enormous sums of money preparing for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. No effort was spared. The people came together to pour their hearts and treasure into making the Olympics and Paralympics in 2020 shine.
But just as Japan stood on the start line and the Games were set to begin, a dreadful pandemic sprang from a country which had turned its back on the peace and internationalism the Games represent — the values underpinned by respect for the individual and regard for human freedom.
The coronavirus pandemic, made in Wuhan, the People’s Republic of China, caused the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to be delayed by a year, and is also keeping most of the events empty of spectators.
Pierre de Coubertin thought that modern civil religion should be free of gods. As it turns out, civil religion is apparently also possible without people, too.
Who Are the Olympics For?
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics mainly feature athletes and politicians. This does not portend well for a bright future for all of mankind. Nor does the fact that the next Olympics, in the winter of 2022, are to be held in Beijing, in a country which evinces little regard for the freedom and democracy which are said to be the foundations for international peace.
China cannot be allowed to hijack the modern Olympics, which have developed as a ritual for the sake of the entire human race. The dictator of China, Xi Jinping, has taken to behaving as if he himself is a god. Are we to offer the Olympics in 2022 to this new Zeus?
This all poses a question: Who are sporting rituals held for? If the Olympics are an offering, then they must never be presented in the honor of dictators and tyrants.
For this reason, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are the most important Olympics in human history. We — all of us — stand on the brink of a new Dark Age. If we were to have allowed the Tokyo Games to be canceled, we would have ceded the future to the dark designs of the Chinese Communist Party, which already enslaves more than a billion human beings and desires to enslave many billions more.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Are for All of Us
Leftist media outlets and pundits in Japan opposed the 2020 Tokyo Games. But to fend off a future in which respect for human freedom and dignity has been destroyed, it is absolutely essential that we make the 2020 Games a success.
Normally, the athletes at a given Olympics represent their respective countries and compete on their fellow citizens’ behalf. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, however, are competing on behalf of the entire human family.
This summer, for a brighter future for all, let us offer up the shared and essential sacrifice of the Olympic Games.
(This article was first published in The Sankei Shimbun “Seiron” column on July 26, 2021. Access to the digital version can be found at this link.)
Author: Jason Morgan