Wednesday morning I watched women’s beach volleyball at the Olympics. I had hoped to find the Americans playing. When watching MSNBC, you never know who you will get. I quickly became intrigued with the match. It was Russia versus Georgia. Not Georgia the Peach State, but Georgia the country that Russia invaded this week.
I am not sure how I would feel as an athlete in the Olympics, but it must be a heavy load to bear the weight of an entire country’s expectations on your shoulder. How much more so would that weight feel burdensome if you were competing against the country that attacked your homeland?
Global politics are nothing new in the Olympics. African-American sprinter Jesse Owens singlehandedly wrecked Hitler’s coming out party in 1936 in Germany. Israelis were the casualties in 1972 in Munich. Jimmy Carter led a boycott of the Soviets in 1980. China saved the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles when Russia tried to lead a worldwide boycott of the American games. China’s presence gave credibility to the games and stopped the hemorrhage.
The rivalry between China and the U.S.A. in these Olympics feels more like a college football rivalry than the Cold War of the ’80s. The conflict between Georgia and Russia has gotten some ink, but the world sees Russia as a third-world power now and not the global nemesis they once were. The U.S. cancelled a joint naval exercise this week with Russia in protest. Even as the world gathers in peace and harmony, this invasion is a reminder that at any one time there are scores of armed conflicts across our globe.
Had it been anyone else I would have switched to the USA Network and their coverage of badminton. The American had lost his dad to cancer and he was playing in his honor. That kind of stuff is so appealing, but the Georgia versus Russia volleyball encounter was just too compelling.
The Russians went up early and took the first set with no difficulty. In the second set one of the Georgian stars, Christine Santanna, seemed near exhaustion from the heat–both of the sun and the pressure of a country torn by war. The Georgians came back and won set two in a very close match. I found myself cheering for Georgia in the third set. It was Russia that seemed tired in set three. With the game on the line the Russians failed to get the ball across the net and as the ball softly fell to the sand the Georgians embraced. They had won!
A cease fire was reached a couple of days ago between Russia and Georgia. That cease fire is already being tested. One can only hope and pray that it would continue.
I found myself thinking the most naive thought: Wouldn’t it be great of all conflicts could be settled on the field of play and not the field of battle? Wouldn’t it be great if only egos and ankles were wounded instead of innocent children and women?
It would be incredible, but we live in a fallen world. The dream of the lion and lamb is not a pipe dream, just not one to be seen in my lifetime. For now, I must be satisfied to know that the Georgian citizens will go to sleep tonight with some sense of redemption. It is not much, but sometimes a little is a lot.
Ed Hogan is pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston.