Humanity Shines at Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games

Olympic Games Opening Ceremony

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are known for delivering awe-inspiring moments that stay with us long after the Games are over. Tokyo 2020 was no exception.

Against all odds, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games proceeded as planned. While the issue of whether the Games should have gone ahead or not has been debated endlessly, the beautiful moments that brought out the best of humanity shone brighter than the controversy that surrounded it.

What we can all agree on is that Tokyo 2020 gave the world a moment of reprieve, a bright spot during the past year and a half of angst and uncertainty – a moment to celebrate each of our respective countries, our athletes, and a reason to come together in celebration.

Athletes Inspire and Bring Six Principles to Life @Tokyo2020

This month, we reflect on the Games and share with you the stories that best exemplify the Olympic and Paralympic spirit, as well as Sport for Humanity’s Principles of Joy, Love, Compassion, Respect, Enlightenment and Balance.

Refugee Olympic  & Paralympic Teams Personify Inspiration, Inclusion & Compassion

Created by IOC President Thomas Bach, the Refugee Olympic Team first participated in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games with a small group of 10 athletes. Today, the team has grown to include 29 athletes who exemplify the ability of sport to create opportunities for inspiration, inclusion, and compassion. Together, these athletes are giving hope to more than 80 million forcibly displaced people around the world.

One of the Refugee team’s shining stars is Yusra Mardini who during her escape from Syria, survived by swimming more than three hours across the sea to Greece while dragging a failing lifeboat behind her. After reaching safety and settling in Germany, she joined a swim club and has never looked back. Swimming has saved her life in more ways than one.

“I represent millions around the world. A refugee is a human being like any other. A refugee means a person who is seeking a refuge, a place where they want to stay safe. And there is nothing wrong with that. I am sending a message that refugees won’t give up easily and will keep on dreaming even after going through tough journeys.” – Yusra Mardini, Syrian refugee and Olympic swimmer

Paralympic refugee team swimmerFellow swimmer and refugee Abbas Karami also competed in Tokyo 2020 as part of the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Refugee Team and made history as the first refugee athlete to compete at the Paralympic Finals in the 50-meter butterfly. Originally from Afghanistan, Abbas was born without any arms. At age 16, Abbas began a long and harrowing journey that led him to Turkey and eventually, to Portland, Oregon in the US where he now lives and trains.

“No one is the same in this world and everyone is different. But we all have to accept [ourselves] and accept each other the way we are.” – Abbas Karami, Afghani refugee and Paralympic swimmer

High Jumpers’ Shared Gold a Demonstration of Love & Joy

When faced with the prospect of a jump-off to claim Olympic gold, high jumper Mutaz Barshim of Qatar asked officials if he could instead share the gold with fellow high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy. When it was confirmed that they could, both athletes quickly agreed to take the victory together, erupting in cries of victory and tears of joy.

“For me, coming here, I know for a fact that for the performance I did, I deserve that gold. He did the same thing, so I know he deserved that gold.” – Mutaz Essa Barshim, Qatari High Jumper

“I still can’t believe it happened. Sharing with a friend is even more beautiful… It was just magical.” – Gianmarco Tamberi, Italian High Jumper

Gender Balanced Games Signals New Era of Inclusion & Respect for Women in Sport

Finally, after more than 100 years, women earned “equal billing” at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Tokyo 2020was the first-ever gender-balanced Olympic Games in history and boasted a record number of female competitors at the Paralympics Games, signaling a new era of inclusion and respect for women in sport.

This shift extended beyond the numbers and was also reflected in changes that women championed through their choice of uniform, pushing to wear clothing that promoted inclusion and performance, and diminished sexualization. This included full-piece bodysuits in gymnastics, shorts in handball, and skorts and hijabs in badminton.

LGBTQ Representation Paves the Way for Love & Inclusion

Tokyo 2020 also welcomed a record number of LGBTQ athletes to the Games, with more than 150 publicly-out Olympic athletes and at least 28 out-and-proudParalympians – making Tokyo 2020 one of the most inclusive sporting events ever.

Tom Daley, a British diver who won his first gold medal of his career at these Olympics, used the opportunity to send a message to the LGBTQ community:

“I hope that any young LGBTQ person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone and that you can achieve anything, and there is a whole lot of your chosen family out here ready to support you. I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion.”

Sitting volleyball champion Monique Matthews said she hoped that the visibility of the event would help raise funds for her husband Landon’s surgery:

“Most people see us as an inspiration because we are disabled, so they usually look past if you’re LGBTQ … but we want them to see the whole us. Which is why I’m happy that so many [athletes] are out this year compared to last Paralympics.”

Athletes Advocated for Mental Health as Key to Enlightenment and Balance

Olympic medal winner Simone BilesThe importance of mental health was brought to the forefront in Tokyo when Simone Biles withdrew from events where she was expected to medal, in order to protect her physical and mental health. Athletes and fans from around the globe applauded her bravery in standing up against the expectations and pressure that Olympic athletes face in order to preserve her well-being. Simone’s ability to prioritize her mental health over an Olympic medal highlights the value of enlightenment and balance in sport.

“I have to focus on my mental health. I just think mental health is more prevalent in sports right now. We have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do.” – Simone Biles, United States Gymnast

Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games Sparked Moments of Joy

While the Summer Olympics are now behind us until Paris 2024, the joy of the Games will stay with us for quite some time.

As we revisit the most magical moments of Tokyo 2020, we continue to be uplifted by memories of the pure joy on the face of Hidilyn Diaz, the weightlifter from the Philippines, when she won the first-ever Olympic gold in weightlifting for the Philippines and the first gold medal for her country in 97 years! And we will continue to smile when we see videos and memes of the Australian coach’s joyful reaction toAriarne Titmus’ gold medal swim.

This week, we will bear witness to more moments of sheer joy and inspiration from athletes who truly embody the Sport for Humanity principles, as we cheer on the athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which come to a close on Sunday, September 5th.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games remind us of the unique ability of sport to bring people together, regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality or ability.

Whether participating in the games as an athlete, coach, volunteer or as a fan cheering from the sidelines, the Olympic and Paralympic Games have once again demonstrated that the true value of sport resides in the spirit of the game and regardless of results, everyone comes out a winner!

Tokyo 2020


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