When Juan Samaranch, President of the IOC, announced in September 1993, ‘And the winner is Sidn – eeee!’, the New South Wales government knew that preparing for the 2000 Olympics would entail an immense amount of work.
Seven years and $3.5 billion later, Australia presented a sporting event that won the praise and admiration of 4 billion viewers around the world.
Facilities were built to house 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries. Venues were constructed for 28 different sports and medallions minted for the winners of 300 events.
The ‘Torch’ relay created huge public interest. The ‘sacred flame’ departed from Ayres Rock (known now by its aboriginal name of Uluru) and visited towns and cities beyond the Black Stump, before finishing at the Olympic stadium.
The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were dedicated to reconciliation between Australia’s native Aborigines and the Europeans who have made Australia their home since 1788.
The whole event spoke of man’s pride in his achievements. The well-proportioned bodies and amazing prowess of the athletes were watched with admiration by a worldwide TV audience.
But as Australians congratulated themselves on a job well done, Christians remembered that the organising committee had refused to include a prayer to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, we were assured that all would go well, because an Aboriginal ‘smoking’ ceremony was held outside the Stadium before the games commenced!
A Roman Catholic priest suggested his parishioners miss mass and join the Aboriginal activists, reportedly saying: ‘I would like to see … a recognition that Christ has been present in Aboriginal people from the beginning’.
The ‘sacred’ flame, to say nothing of the fake ‘priestesses’ in the closing ceremony, suggested that for many people the Olympics filled the space left in their lives by the absence of God.
Something to believe in?
The past president of the IOC, Avery Brundige, declared that the Olympics are ‘a twentieth-century religion, a religion with universal appeal which incorporates all the basic values of other religions’.
The Sydney Morning Herald stated: ‘The Olympics have certainly revealed the depth of Australia’s yearning for something to believe in – their appetite for ritual, for a set of easily grasped values, perhaps even for a richer spiritual dimension in their lives.
‘When people spoke of the Olympic spirit, they seem to imply something more than good sportsmanship, or friendliness, or goodwill; the phrase was used … with quasi-religious intent, as though there were something mystical about the whole experience, something to believe in at last’.
The Olympic Games were well run, and spectators and athletes alike had an exciting fortnight. Yet the true hope of this nation lies not in the sporting achievements of its athletes, but in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of sinners, who has all power in heaven and earth.