Tokyo 2020: What is an Olympic gold worth?

The iconic flag of the five Olympic rings is an expression of the solidarity of the world’s five continents

The largest sporting event in the world, the Olympic Games is about to kick off in Tokyo after being postponed for a year due to the Covid pandemic. Sports fans around the world are preparing to support their country in a myriad of events, from tennis to football to gymnastics.

The first time I watched the Olympics was in 1968, it was on a 12-inch black and white TV, they were held in Mexico City. I find the spirit of the Olympic Games resonates with my faith and Islamic practices, Alhamdulillah. The athletes personify self-discipline, hard work and devotion to their sport. Islam demands these of me all the time. As you enjoy the intense competition and endeavours to break world records just remember what I am doing to win the pleasure of my Lord.

Every four years the Olympic Games give us a sense of a united global village. Thousands of men and women have gathered in Japan for the Olympic Games, which start on 23rd July to 8th August, the pinnacle of the sporting calendar. Hopeful young athletes have been practising and honing their skills for years to get here, often dedicated to carrying out gruelling and demanding exercises and sacrificing everything, including family life, for their training. Thousands of hours of practice has honed their self-control, all in a bid to win Gold. Here I ask, what does winning Gold mean and can we learn anything from athletes who dedicate their lives to achieving this?

The history of the Olympic Games

The Olympics has also changed beyond recognition. In recent times, there has been the introduction of new sports and the disposal of some old ones. Its origins can be traced back 2,800 years ago in the Olympia region of ancient Greece. Back then, it was a grand festival of athletes and artists competing but it was also considered worship of the gods. The variety of sports is enormous, from archery to athletics; baseball to basketball; canoeing to cycling; fencing to football; shooting to surfing; taekwondo to tennis; weight-lifting to wrestling.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863 – 1937), is the founder of the International Olympic Committee in 1925. Baron de Coubertin promoted the Games because he believed they elevated the mind and soul, overcoming differences between nationalities and cultures while embracing friendship, a sense of solidarity and fair play. This would lead to world peace. An ideal honoured to this day. Today, winning a Gold means so much, what is the significance?

Going for Gold

Each athlete at the Games has one overriding aim, one dominant goal, to win a Gold medal for their country. Winning an Olympic Gold is widely acknowledged to be the ultimate test and if successful an outstanding lifetime achievement. In this light, should one also be reflecting on an even bigger test set for humanity? This life test is one that is judged by “Al-Hakam” the “One who always delivers justice”.

Sunnah Sports

Islam is a complete way of life and offers guidance in all aspects of our lives. Our religion places great emphasis on developing our body, mind and soul. There are many ahadith that highlight particular sports that the Prophet (peace be upon him) encouraged and took part in, these include (all Olympic sports by the way):

  1. Archery
  2. Horse Riding
  3. Running
  4. Wrestling

In some ways, we may be able to learn something from the dedication and preparation of these athletes that the spirit of the Olympic Games inspires. One should ask whether our worship and devotion shares the same intense essence? Are we sacrificing and practising self-control in the bid to achieve success here and in the hereafter. Whether it’s the daily five prayers or fasting in the month of Ramadhan; whether it’s the giving of money in Zakat or performance of the pilgrimage in the scorching sun of the Arabian desert. They all require a spirit of hard work for long-term gains. The Olympic spirit of endurance, resilience and sacrifice are the ingredients of my daily devotions too, so my track is my Musalla, fasting and generosity.