Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics say the games may be trimmed down next year, NPR reported. The games were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, costing Japan billions. The ancient Olympics started small and grew quickly.
Plans are underway to develop a method of streamlining the Olympics before they happen next year, according to NPR. “Yoshiro Mori, the president of the organizing committee, told reporters Wednesday that he hopes to simplify the games in order to cut costs and provide a safer environment,” the article said. “Officials said on Wednesday that they plan to ask international sports bodies and national Olympic committees to ‘streamline’ the games and reduce the total number of participants. More than 11,000 athletes participated in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Summer Olympics.”
The article went on to say that delaying the games from 2020 to July 2021 has cost Japan between $2 billion and $6 billion.
The modern Olympics have become an enormous spectacle. In ancient Greece, they started off far smaller and grew like wildfire.
A Tribute to the Gods
In modern times, the Olympics is a contest of physical and athletic prowess participated in by virtually every nation on Earth, held in friendly competition and organized into teams designated by countries. When the ancient Olympics began, the rivalry wasn’t based on nationality—or at least not as specifically. It took place in Olympia, Greece, a city considered to be a place of sanctuary.
“The ancient Greek Olympic games were staged as part of a great festival honoring Zeus,” said Professor Gregory S. Aldrete, Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. “The Olympic Games began in 776 BCE, and they continued to be held every four years in an uninterrupted sequence for over a millennium. The first Olympics consisted of only a single event, an approximately 200-meter foot race called the stade.”
According to Professor Aldrete, 300 years after the Olympics began, so many events had been added that it had become a five-day festival. Athletes were made to travel to Elis, a city 36 miles from Olympia, to practice under the scrutiny of judges. The judges, who were chosen from local nobility, could reduce the number of competitors based on citizenship and skill level.
A Time-Honored Truce
One of the honors of today’s Olympic games is representing your country. One perk of that is that nations who win the gold medal get bragging rights for essentially having the best athlete in the world for that event. When nations are at war, Olympic victories can be incredibly symbolic—and are made possible due to truces between players of enemy nations. This practice of a truce originated during the ancient games.
“The games were protected by a sacred truce that dictated that the sanctuary was neutral ground,” Professor Aldrete said. “This ensured that even if athletes were present from states that were at war with each other, they could not fight, but could compete together in the events. Also, the Sacred Truce dictated that athletes traveling to the games could pass through enemy territory with impunity.
“The Olympic Truce seemed to work, and the games were held continuously even during major wars among Greek states.”
When the Olympics return next year, they may look different than we’re used to seeing. However, the spirit of competition and the national pride will surely remain the same as ever.
Professor Gregory S. Aldrete contributed to this article. Professor Aldrete is Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, where he has taught since 1995. He earned his BA from Princeton University and his master’s degree and PhD in Ancient History from the University of Michigan.