The London 2012 Olympics begin tonight. HuffPost Religion published an interesting article on the connection between religion and the games. Here’s an exceprt:
Though not sectarian, the modern games began to take on their own quasi-religious rituals.
Coubertin borrowed ceremonies, hymns, and rituals from the ancient festival to shape a transcendent “Olympism,” uniting all athletes. Some scholars today refer to his creation as a “civil religion.”
“The civil religion was not so much the worship or devotion to the state, as it is often now understood,” explained Joseph Price, a professor of religion at Whittier College in California who researches sport and religion. Devotion “was to the civitas, the human group that transcended a particular religion.”
Over the years, the International Olympic Committee and host states introduced “new” symbols to bolster Olympism, said Stephen Mosher, professor of sport management and media at Ithaca College in New York.
Still, the modern games have touches from the ancient past.
Gold medals since 1928 have been imprinted with the image of Nike, goddess of victory. And though the torch relay existed in antiquity, it was not part of the ancient Olympics. “It was’invented’ by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Games in an obvious attempt to connect the modern German state with the ancient Greek state,” Mosher said.
Today, the IOC and host countries must tread lightly to accommodate modern religious expression in an often-hostile political climate.