The 2020 Summer Olympics—officially known as the Games of the XXXII Olympiad—were delayed a year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. But you can still catch the events in Tokyo until August 8.
Here are nine things you should know about the world’s leading international sporting event.
1. The Olympic Games are a part of the “Olympic Movement.”
When most people think of the Olympics, they think of the Olympic Games—which consist of the Games of the Olympiad and the Olympic Winter Games. But the games are a part of the broader Olympic Movement, which includes the organizations, athletes, and other persons (such as judges, referees, coaches) who agree to be guided by the Olympic Charter. The three main constituents of the Olympic Movement are the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Sports Federations, and the National Olympic Committees. The goal of the Olympic Movement is “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced in accordance with Olympism and its values.”
2. The Olympic Games are about individuals and teams, not about countries.
The mission of the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) is to develop, promote, and protect the Olympic Movement in their respective countries. The NOCs have the exclusive authority to choose which athletes will represent their respective countries at the Olympic Games. But the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries. Individuals and teams—not countries—win or lose at the Olympics. That is why athletes from Russia are allowed to compete under the flag of the ROC, or Russian Olympic Committee. Their native country is banned from all international sporting competitions by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
3. To be accepted for the Olympic Games, sports must add “value and appeal.”
To be accepted for the Olympic Games, a sport must be widely practiced by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents and by women in no fewer than 40 countries and on three continents. The sport must also increase the ‘‘value and appeal’’ of the Olympic Games and retain and reflect its modern traditions. There are 67 games allowed at the summer Olympics, including skateboarding, beach handball, breaking (breakdancing), and futsal (a type of indoor soccer). There are also four types of gymnastics: acrobatic, artistic, rhythmic, and trampoline. Some popular games that have never been included are bowling, squash, and mixed martial arts.
4. Just as new sports are added, older ones are removed.
Just as games can be added, others can be cut. In fact, the recent practice of the IOC is to cut some games when new ones are included. Some of the games that got the boot include cricket, lacrosse, polo, power boating, rackets, rink hockey, roque, tug of war, and water skiing.
5. “Mind sports” aren’t allowed at the Olympics.
While athletes are not forbidden from playing “mind games,” actual “mind sports” are not allowed at the Olympic Games. In 2002, the games of bridge and chess were considered for inclusion. But the Olympic Programme Commission decided that “mind sports”—defined as being sports in which the physical elements are not necessarily performed by the player in the conduct of the competition—would not be eligible. Sports that rely on “mechanical propulsion” are also ineligible.
6. Women were initially excluded from the games.
Women did not compete in the first games held in 1896, but they took part in the next event in Paris in 1900. Out of 997 athletes, 22 were women (less than 3 percent of the total) and they only participated in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian, and golf (only tennis and golf had women-only events). Today, women compose about 45 percent of the athletes at the Summer Olympics. There are two events (synchronized swimming and gymnastics rhythmic) that are open to women but not to men, one (wrestling Greco-Roman) that is open to men but not to women, and three (equestrian dressage, equestrian everything, and equestrian jumping) that are mixed. Since 1991, any new events added have to be open to women. The 2012 London Games were the first Olympics in which all participating countries sent female athletes.
7. A record-breaking runner refused to compete on a Sunday for religious reasons.
In 1924, the Scottish athlete Eric Liddell became renowned for choosing his religious convictions over his allegiance to his sport. Liddell was slated to run the 100-meter race in the 1924 Summer Olympics. But when he learned the qualifying heat was on a Sunday, he refused to run—a decision that was condemned in both the British press and Parliament—because, he said, “I object to Sunday sport in toto.” He competed instead in the 400 meters, an event in which he was not expected to win. However, Liddell not only won the race, he even broke the Olympic and world records with a time of 47.6 seconds. He would later go on to become a missionary in China, and his Olympic race was depicted in the Oscar-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire.
8. International refugees have their own team.
In 2016, the IOC created the first-ever team of Refugee Olympic Athletes. “This will be a symbol of hope for all refugees in the world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis,” said IOC President Thomas Bach in 2016. “It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.” This year, 29 refugee athletes come from 11 different countries: Afghanistan, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, the Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela. Of those countries, five are either on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s special watch list or on the list of countries of particular concern.
9. The Olympic Games attracts thousands of missionaries.
The Olympic Games, both summer and winter, tend to attract thousands of missionaries. The Winter Games in Korea in 2018 attracted teams of Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, as well as missionaries of other faiths, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. For the latest games, missionaries in Tokyo associated with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board developed evangelism and outreach plans utilizing both volunteers and Japanese churches and believers. During the Olympics, IMB missionaries and Japanese Christians will offer conversational English practice in areas where college students congregate.