The Opening Ceremonies were amazingly colorful, full of music and dance while the athletes of the world paraded in behind their flags. This marked the beginning of my 15 year obsession with becoming an Olympic athlete. I was 8 when I saw my first games in 1984, just as my dreams were forming and I was beginning to appreciate the wider world. My country, Canada, was among those represented in the Los Angles Stadium and I watched our athletes intently as they competed over the next two weeks. I remember telling my mother about my new dream of becoming an Olympian.
"What sport will you do?" she asked.
"Swimming or gymnastics, " I answered.
From that moment on, the seeds of Olympism were firmly planted in my heart. It would be two more years before I found 'my' sport - water polo. It was another ten years before I made the Senior National Team and five years after that before I made it to a regional Olympic event - the Pan American Games.
Over those 15 years, the seeds of Olympism continued to take root in young minds around the world. And little wonder! The principles and values of the games are admirable:
Fundamental Principles - from the opening pages of the Olympic Charter
#2. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for the universal fundamental ethical principles.
#3. The Goal of Olympism is to place everywhere sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity. To this effect, the Olympic Movement engages, alone or in cooperation with other organizations and within the limits of its means, in actions to promote peace.
#6. To contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play
#7, The activity of the Olympic movement symbolized by five interlaced rings, is universal and permanent. It covers the five continents. It reaches its peak with the bringing together of the world at the great sports festival the Olympic Games.
These lofty ideals fueled my internal drive to achieve my dreams and with the encouragement of my family and coaches I resolved to reach my full potential as an athlete.
I signed a statement prior to competing in the Pan-American Games:
"All members of Canada's Pan American Team are expected to have through their behavior embrace the philosophy of Olympism and to conduct themselves accordingly. I will not engage in conduct that is inconsistent with the philosophy of Olympism, that is respect for the dignity of the human race both individually and collectively with proper regard for the harmonious development of all persons, including myself, towards the goal of achieving the best that one can be in body, will and mind. I promise to act and compete in the spirit of Olympism throughout the period of this Agreement and beyond."
I made this promise, and now, as a result, believe that I must speak out about what I see.
The Olympic Movement sets high aims in its charter. To me, "Respecting the dignity of the human race" does not mean licensing the symbol of Olympic ideals to the world's leading producers of junk food. I eventually resigned my position on the Canadian Team, in part at least because I couldn't stomach the idea that my finest performance, made at the peak of my athletic career, would be used by the "supreme authority of the Olympic Movement," the IOC, in a deeply flawed co-branding venture. Today the universal and permanent symbol of the five rings is co-branded with McDonald's and Coke.
Coke and MacDonalds target youth as key consumers. A four billion person viewing audience for the Games equals a "winning formula" for both muti-national corporations. In the end, the "winning formula" promotes habits which lead to an obese world - just like America. One quarter of all American children are obese, and adult obesity is at fifty percent and rising. The cause is clear - diets high in fats and sugars, low in fiber, and a sedentary life style. McDonald's has worked hard to create repeat adult customers by marketing Happy Meals to children who will become life-long customers. Currently, ninety percent of
American children between the ages of three and nine visit McDonald's every month.
How does the promotion of American-style consumption of junk food possibly relate to the spirit of Olympism?
Sport fosters the development of all aspects of the self: body, mind and spirit. I pushed my physical limits as I got faster, stronger and more skilled. I developed my mind, learning the intricate patterns of the game while perusing a university education. I connected with my spiritual self and practiced settling my mind to allow my body to perform at a peak level. I found deep joy in the effort I exerted in my sports career. I "harmoniously developed" by eating a balanced, low fat, low sugar, low animal product diet.
Surely in order to pursue sport in the service of humanity, the IOC must live up to its own pledge that it "opposes any political or commercial abuse of the games." Shilling junk food to the world's youth by co-branding the Olympic Rings does not place sport in the service of humanity.
I hope that athletes in Salt Lake and all future Olympians will speak out publicly about the values that personally motivate them and about the role a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables and low in fat and refined sugars plays in helping them achieve their Olympic performances. These are the values of the games that should be planted as the seeds of Olympism in the world's youth.
Kaliya Young can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org