BEIJING: The Summer Olympics, the world’s largest sports event held every four years, has at times been affected by politics. The Olympic Games held during the Cold War years sometimes reflected the ideological and strategic division during those years. If the United States led several countries in boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the erstwhile Soviet Union-led Eastern Bloc (except Romania) boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
The situation improved after the end of the Cold War. The 2012 London Olympics, however, has again reflected the prevailing tensions in world politics, albeit in a different way.
A remarkable feature of the London Games has been the performance of China. The Chinese won the highest number of medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But then many experts doubted whether China would be able to repeat the performance. China's success was attributed to its home advantage, which refers to the better knowledge and adaptability of local teams to conditions at home compared to foreign teams.
Many felt that China had capitalised on its home advantage to win the maximum number of medals in Beijing, which it would not be able to do if the Games were held elsewhere.
All these doubts have been put to rest by China's impressive show in London. While China was expected to do well, it was probably not expected to win as many gold medals as it did. The final medal tally is now known to one and all. The sporting gap between the US and China has clearly reduced. In several events including swimming, which has been traditionally dominated by the US, the Chinese have performed as well as the Americans.
China's demonstration of its sports power has, expectedly, not gone down well with the US and the western media. Many media reports have accused Chinese athletes of adopting unfair means for enhancing speed, stamina and strength. These allegations, made mostly by former athletes and coaches, reflect the frustration of the US and Europe in not being able to match China in what they consider their "pet" events.
It is not only China whose success in the Olympics has damaged western pride. The noteworthy performance of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has also raised eyebrows.
The London Olympics mirrors an important reality of the modern world: the gradual emergence of a bipolar global order. The unipolar world order of more than two decades, dominated by the US, is getting increasingly rebalanced by the rise of China. The strategic distance between the US and China has decreased in many respects. China still lags behind the US and most of the high-income developed countries of the world in several social and human development indicators. But it is gradually catching up in other areas. And sports is one of them.
Internationally, sports is dominated by the major global powers. Excellence in sports is one of the several characteristics of a world power.
During the Cold War years, sports was dominated by the US and the Soviet Union, the two superpowers.
Thereafter, it was the US all the way, followed by members of the G7 group of rich countries: France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Canada. China, in this sense, is the first non-G7 country to challenge the supremacy of the G7 in sports. It is also the first Asian country to take on the Western dominance in sports on such a large scale. Though Japan has been a good performer in several sports, its achievements have never been big enough to put it in the top league of world sports.
China's performance at the London Olympics, therefore, has several significant implications. These include an Asian alternative in a field traditionally dominated by the West. They also include the unprecedented rise and presence of a developing country in the topmost league of world sports. China's repetition of its performance in Beijing four years later in a foreign country reflects the closing gap between the developed world and a part of the developing world in the sports arena.
And finally, what the Olympics most convincingly shows is the emergence of a new global bipolarity. This, as expected, has elicited adverse responses. Stronger growth of the bipolarity will only draw more adverse responses to China's rise and the "Asia-centric" reordering of the world.
By arrangement with the China Daily/ANN