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Agbu: The Olympics as elixir in a troubled world


Professor Osita Agbu

Professor Osita Agbu

Different parts of the world have been troubled in recent times, and nations have sought various means to bring about peace. There is economic recession, global meltdown, terrorism and political instability. Yet, the global community gathered in Rio, Brazil, to engage in sporting activities and focus on what unites the world. Professor Osita Agbu, an International Relations expert, who is also a researcher at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, spoke with Victoria Ojugbana on the Olympic Games as an elixir for a troubled world.

As a global sporting meet, how far can Olympics bring the world closer
The history of the Olympic Games goes far back to the Greek days and has become a global sporting event. We have had some incidences of disturbances during the Olympic Games like the Munich terrorism situation we had in Germany many years ago. While the Olympic Games was in the offing, there were lots of misgivings about the things that could go wrong with the organisation and location of the Games in Rio, Brazil.

There were issues that had to do with health as the Zika scare, whether the facilities were up to standard, whether they would be completed on time as there were construction workers from all over South America labouring to ensure that the games happened.Some of the athletes were saying that they didn’t want to participate because of the Zika virus fear.

So far, there are no incidents to douse the enthusiasm at the games. Is that a sign of the world overcoming terrorism?
By and large, into this world of globalisation, which comes with its positives and negatives – a major negative of globalistion is terrorism, to the extent that whereas globalisation was associated with opening up, the world was coming together as a village and breaking down barriers, making borders to be borderless and enhance movement of capital and people, which is the hallmark of today.

At the same time, terrorism as a phenomenon has taken advantage of globalisation to also perpetrate evil all over the world because the terrorists can access technologies. Terrorists have access to the airplanes, can move through the borders all in the name of one global village to perpetrate terror. People could move from one part of Europe to another country to commit terrorist acts.

There was a lot of fear that one way or the other, the Rio Olympic Games would experience one form of terrorism or the other as the global environment is characterised by instability. The organisers of the Games took this into consideration and were ready to counter any terrorist act.

How much of the unity factor have you seen in the games?
It is difficult for me to say, but one thing I can tell from my little experience is that sports momentarily stops unnecessary aggression and disunity among people. With the way sports is going, there is a kind of camaraderie (comradeship) among the athletes and players. You tend to forget some of your problems as you engage in competitive sports. The Olympic Games has come a long time and the games has a culture of its own.

There is a kind of closeness that goes along with it, even after the games has ended. So, momentarily, Rio Olympic Games has diverted attention even in the mass media, from people’s problems, including the ongoing processes of campaign for the United States presidency. Now, people switch on their televisions to check what has happened in Rio and not what has happened to the U.S. election campaign. For the moment, the Rio Games will tend to unite the citizens of the world and not necessarily countries, because Russian athletes are participating in the Games, U.S. athletes are there also. We know what is happening in Syria where a war is going on and the U.S. is backing one side while Russia is backing the other side of the rebels. But that hasn’t stopped the Russian and U.S. athletes from competing. Win or lose, you see them hugging themselves after the competition.

Momentarily, there is unity of purpose among the athletes as global citizens. But after the Games, I have a strong feeling that the situation will revert to status quo in which countries will again continue to pursue what they see as their core interest. The athletes are not there in their personal capacities, but to represent their countries.

How symbolic is that towards building world peace?
Like I said, there is a kind of respect for one country or the other. There’s a kind of respect for citizen to citizen and country to country. If there is a way this respect can be translated to tolerance, be consciously galvanized to tolerance of one country for another and the recognition of differences, then there will be unity among the people. That people are different, yet they can come together for one Olympic Games and within that period, everyone is acting as friends and there is respect from athletes to athletes and country to country, shows that it can bring people together as one.

If there is a way the Olympics Games as a phenomenon to galvanise the respect for countries and individuals into tolerance for countries and individuals, and beyond the games, then we can begin to say that it can be actually used to intermittently draw the world back to the basic need for respect and tolerance among people in the world and that will begin to assist with reducing conflict.

Since conflict is innate in human behaviour, what is important is the management of it. The Games can also be used as a tool to manage states different interests so that they do not become too conflictual. That is a good lesson for us all.

What gains do you think the world stands to get from sporting activities?
At the individual level, it is very good for strong and capable people to be engaged meaningfully in sports. In these days and times when you have a lot of unemployment, the youth need to be kept busy. There is something to gain from sports. Apart from being healthy, you can also make a lot of money from it. Those who are gifted can develop their skills in whatever sporting event they are interested in. The various countries should encourage such youths that are capable to go into sports, not only to bring economic benefit to themselves, but also accolades to their countries. Every country should encourage sporting events.

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