The Games Go On


The Tokyo Summer Olympic Games currently under way are not like anything we’ve ever experienced before.

Postponed for a full year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the events were originally scheduled for the summer of 2020.

Instead, the traditional Parade of Athletes opening ceremony was held July 23 along with the lighting of the Olympic Flame—partly powered, for the first time, by the relatively planet-friendly fuel hydrogen, to start things off.

While the athletes were present in full force and primed to perform, spectators were few in number, their presence limited by ongoing concerns over the spread of Covid and their cheers greatly missed.

Days of sweltering heat and a forecast of strong winds and heavy rain early this week didn’t help either.

But, and there’s always a but.

Audiences around the world can follow the action on TV and livestreamed on the internet, participating in a midsummer ritual that comes around only every four years but when it does it commands attention.

This year, the games are a big, bright spot in a world that’s hungry for positive news.

Even with stringent procedures meant to control the spread of the virus, and with numerous athletes sidelined with positive Covid tests, the games and events have not been weighed down overall and that’s a good thing.

As Catholics, and as Americans, the dedication and perseverance of the Olympic athletes reflect the values that we share, and that bring us hope.

Monday’s winning performance by U.S. rugby player Joe Schroeder, 28, a graduate of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, is a case in point. Overcoming the unexpected death of his 22-year-old brother Will in 2020, and suffering a crushing shoulder injury that required surgery and a year of difficult rehabilitation, the U.S. men’s rugby sevens team beat two of the toughest teams around, Kenya and Ireland, to avoid elimination and advance to Day 2.

His family and his Catholic faith, he says, is what drives him.

Lee Kiefer, a 2017 graduate of the University of Notre Dame who is now a medical student in Kentucky, knows she’s going home with the gold as the first American to win an individual medal in foil fencing.

“Golden is thy fame, indeed,” Notre Dame tweeted after the July 25 win.

More than 11,600 athletes from 205 national Olympic committee teams and the IOC Refugee Olympic Team were participating in more than 330 events in 33 different sports in the July 23 to Aug. 8 games.

The International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, announced in 2015 that it would be creating a Refugee Olympic Team to take part in the games, starting with the Summer Games in Rio 2016. This year’s Refugee Olympic Team was made up of 29 athletes from a dozen countries who have been living and training in host countries, in yet another indication that the games are, as Pope Francis prayed, “a sign of hope, a sign of universal brotherhood marked by a healthy spirit of competition.”

After praying the Angelus at the Vatican July 25, the pope said: “God bless the organizers, the athletes and all those who collaborate for this great festival of sport.”

A great festival it is, no doubt about that.